The ink was barely dry on the first official 1990 census results when the numbers came under attack from state and local officials fearful of losing political clout and federal dollars.
"I think this thing was destined to fail from day one," said Mayor Jimmy Kemp of Meridian, Miss., a longtime critic of how the head count was run.He was far from the only mayor to complain that the census overlooks many of the nation's poor living in big cities.
The census numbers determine how many representatives each state sends to Congress and how many federal aid dollars states and localities receive.
If the numbers are skewed, some states will get more than their share of money and power while others will be shortchanged.
Michael Darby, undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs, said Thursday he was confident the count was "full, fair and accurate." He said an analysis due next summer is designed to check the accuracy.
"Certainly there's no valid basis for making a judgment about an undercount or overcount at this point," said Darby, who oversees the Census Bureau.
The bureau said Wednesday that it counted 249.6 million people in the United States as of April 1, up nearly 10 percent from a decade ago. Sun Belt states such as California, Arizona and Florida were the big gainers. Population grew at a far slower pace in the industrial Northern states and the Farm Belt.
New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, president of the National League of Cities, said the numbers seemed "to confirm the fears of many city officials that significant numbers of people in their communities were uncounted."
He said the figures put "a substantial burden" on the Census Bureau and the secretary of commerce to prove the count was accurate or adjust it to account for uncounted people.
"We have not seen anything that would convince us that there has been a complete count in Texas," said John Bender, a spokesman for the state comptroller's office. "We are certain there was an undercount in 1980 that cost the state at the very least $30 million a year in federal funds during the 1980s, and it appears that there's been an undercount again in 1990."
But California officials praised the census figures, which showed the state's population grew 26 percent in the 1980s.
The count released this week was significantly higher than the preliminary figures "and more in line with our own estimates," said Linda Gage of the California Finance Department. "We are surprised and delighted."
Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Ohio, chairman of the House census subcommittee, noted the overall population count was 4.7 million people below the Census Bureau's October estimate of 253.4 million.
"We're saying the apparent discrepancy is cause for concern," Sawyer said.
But Rep. Thomas Ridge of Pennsylvania, senior Republican on the census subcommittee, said failure to confirm the October projection "is not legitimate grounds for criticizing the enumeration process itself."