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Politics

Big Money Riding on 2010 Census

When the counting’s done -- some surprising new winners and losers.

Businesses and states have a lot at stake in getting an accurate count of the U.S. population in the ongoing Census as well as a picture of which areas are gaining residents and which ones are experiencing outmigrations. Some of the data will be surprising.

The Census will alter the flow of about $475 billion in annual federal aid for highways, airports, health programs, housing, federally backed business loans, environmental assistance and more. All in all, Census data drives more than 200 federal grant programs.

Each gain or loss of a half million residents is worth about $1.5 billion per year to a state -- a big incentive to make sure that all residents, whether they are citizens, resident aliens, foreign students or undocumented immigrants, are accounted for. Note that the Census Bureau is prohibited from using estimates to get a better count of hard-to-reach populations, such as those in low income and minority areas: It’s required to make a head count of everyone in the country to its best ability.

For states already struggling with tight budgets, “an undercount is the last thing they need,” says Andrew Reamer, a demographics scholar at the Brookings Institution. “Governors realize that errors and oversights and noncompliance will cost money and won’t be able to be corrected for another ten years.”

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The biggest winner in the 2010 demographic sweepstakes? Texas. Fueled by growing energy, high-tech and other industries in and around Houston, Beaumont, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio, the Lone Star State will see a net gain of more than 2 million people when the final tally is in the books. That’s good for four more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and $6 billion more per year in funds flowing from Washington to Texas.

Florida will come out well ahead, too, juiced by a decade of steady growth in the sprawling Miami metro area as well as in Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville. It stands to get two more seats in Congress through the reapportionment process, which is based on Census results tallied every 10 years. Others in the positive column include South Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state. Each of the seven expects to show enough net population growth to gain one extra seat in the House.

But several states in the Northeast and Midwest are bracing for a loss of federal funds and smaller congressional delegations because of dwindling populations. New York and Ohio stand to lose two seats each, and Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota will each lose one seat. Also set to lose a congressional seat is Louisiana, due in large part to population displacements linked to Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and other parts of the state in 2005.

One noteworthy nonchange: California’s population will stay largely as-is, registering no significant net gain or loss since 2000. New arrivals to the state are offset by the number of departures. For the first time since 1850, when California gained statehood, its congressional delegation won’t increase based on the Census.

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Demographic swings favor Republicans, since up to nine congressional seats will be awarded to conservative leaning states. In a very close presidential election, such as the one in 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore, even a relatively small change is significant when tallying votes in the electoral college.

The Census is expected to put the overall U.S. population at 310 million, up 10.3% from 281 million in the 2000 count and 25% from 248 million in 1990. Hispanics will make up about 16% of the total population, and their numbers will continue to grow. Asians, and so-called mixed Asians, will be about the same as 10 years ago, about 5%. The black population also will be about the same, at 13% to 14%. The white population will drop a bit, from 69% in 2000 to 65% this year.

The total cost of conducting the Census is staggering. About $14.5 billion will have been spent for multiple mass mailings to 115 million households, for hiring about 1 million temporary Census workers, for advertising and promotion, and for months of tabulation, data crunching and analysis before the results are released early next year. Cost per resident: $47.

Will the count be accurate? It will be pretty close. No Census has been completely accurate since the first was conducted by U.S. marshals in 1790. Some residents refuse to participate for various reasons or out of negligence. Still, demographic experts who study Census methods and techniques expect the final tally to be about 98% correct, about the same as in 2000.

Neema P. Roshania contributed to this story.