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Mass. aims to swell census tally

Will gather data on the uncounted

Massachusetts officials are betting that a $600,000 initiative written into this year's state budget will yield higher and more accurate estimates of the state's population than recent census numbers. Elevated estimates should help bring the Bay State its fair share of federal dollars, officials and advocates say, and factor into whether the state retains its congressional representation.

The initiative provides funding to contract with the Donahue Institute at the University of Massachusetts for technical assistance so the state can develop and provide its own population estimates to the US Census Bureau for the federal agency's annual approximations.

Legislators approved the program with an eye toward generating higher state population counts for the 2010 Census, which is expected to show stagnant population growth in Massachusetts and could mean the Bay State will lose one or more of its 10 US House seats.

For the first time in three decades, Massachusetts maintained its number of congressional seats after the 2000 Census.

In 1920, the state had 16 US House seats, but it has lost ground over the years as states in the South and West gained population.

An official involved with the program expects Massachusetts to be able to provide its own estimates to the Census Bureau in time for the agency's estimates of the state's 2008 population. In addition, the institute expects to be able to aid cities and towns that decide to challenge 2007 census estimates next year.

"We'll be able to make a difference this year after the fact," said Michael Goodman, director of economic and public policy research at the institute. "Then we'll be able to be in the optimal proactive position."

Massachusetts will join more than 40 other states with similar programs already in place, Goodman said.

The initiative follows successive years in which elected officials have asserted the census has undercounted the Massachusetts population. Inspector General Gregory Sullivan estimated in 2005 that undercounting was costing the state $24 million in federal funds allocated on the basis of the annual population estimates."There are several reasons to believe that the population of Massachusetts is larger than the Census Bureau has been estimating," Goodman said.

Those living in what the Census Bureau considers group-quarter housing -- including college dorms, nursing homes, and prisons -- are most likely to be missed by census tallies.

Goodman said the recent construction of new dorms and growth in the state's nursing homes have not figured into recent census estimates because the state has had no mechanism to provide those numbers to the agency.

In developing the population estimates it supplies to the Census Bureau, the State Data Center at the Donahue Institute will draw on the same data that Massachusetts officials use to develop juror lists and update voter registration records.

Kathleen Ludgate, the Census Bureau's regional director in Boston, said the population estimate program funding will put Massachusetts in a position to "provide information that will help their estimates be a lot better."

"I'm delighted that they were able to give the funding necessary to help improve that program," she said.

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