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A COMMUNITY-BASED STUDY OF THE CENSUS UNDERCOUNT IN A RACIALLY MIXED AREA

Joyce Aschenbrenner

KEY WORDS: Black cultural concepts, household networks, Census assumptions, undercount, omission, ethnographic, St. Louis, urban middle and lower-income

ABSTRACT

The results of this study indicate that Blacks are more likely to be missed than Whites regardless of economic status. In this mixed neighborhood of St. Louis, individuals were missed in both middle and lower-income Black families in greater number than in White families. The author attributes census omission and net undercounts of Blacks to the bias in Census Bureau assumptions, rules, forms, and methods that favor the social and family organization of White or Euro-Americans and that disregards Black's different cultural and social concept of household and family. Stemming from the historical background, the Black household functions in a social milieu of related households whose fortunes are tied together in reciprocity. In such an organization, the question of where one is actually sleeping and eating at the moment is not as vitally important to one's identity and well-being as each person's connection in a network of people who meet one's needs from the time one is born until one dies. The attempt to characterize household makeup at a point in time is contrary to realities in Black family life. One family household may be located in several nearby apartments and houses so moves within one household look like moves among "housing units" with separate addresses. The author recommends that the census change to reflect social realities, modify the census "rule" of "usual" residence to include those who may not be counted elsewhere, direct respondents to consider whether members in related households are being counted in some household, regardless of which they might be in at the time, and otherwise revise the assumptions to adapt to U.S. social organization which consists of many ethnic and socio-cultural groups other than Euro-American. Recognition of the existing bias, accompanied with relatively minor changes in enumeration strategies, could result in a more accurate census count overall.

Citation: Aschenbrenner 1991, Ethnographic Evaluation of the 1990 Census Report #1 Final Report Joint Statistical Agreement 89-44 with Southern Illinois University. PREM #125


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