Posted by: jeffbabl | April 19, 2011

Column #4 Final Draft – Undercounted

When the 2010 census was released a lot of cities were disappointed with the results, everywhere from big cities like New York City and Detroit to rural areas in the heart of Texas.  In New York City an estimated 225,000 residents about 2.6% of the population were missed and Hidalgo County, Texas, believes 8% of its rural population was missed.  Locally the two cities with the biggest gripes would be Omaha and Grand Island.

 For Omaha the Census revealed a shocking total of just 408,958 that came in 11 percent below the 2009 estimate of 454,000. Estimations have historically been overestimated. Even with the annexation of Elkhorn in the middle of the last decade Omaha is left feeling undercounted. The city has two options; either challenge the results or start annexing surrounding neighborhoods that aren’t in city limits.  The Omaha metro is just fine growing to a population of 865,350 but the city needs more residents.  Omaha did little annexation during the last ten years because it would cost more money than city officials thought the urge to grow was.  That is why many high debt areas were passed over.  About 85,000 people live within one mile of Omaha city limits but weren’t counted as Omaha citizens in the 2010 census.

Omaha needs to compete nationally against other metropolitans areas for companies, concerts, sports teams, and other federal funding. They need the population numbers to compete, but when places are resistant to annexation, all they do is hold Omaha back.  Omaha’s second option is to challenge the results of the census as long as they can prove errors.  City leaders have two years to file a challenge beginning June 1st to claim some more residents.

Grand Island faces the exact situation hour’s west on I-80.  Grand Island for years have had a campaign called “Grand Island – Be Counted” in hopes of reaching the 50,000 plateau. The federal government hands out money for things such as schools and public safety based on the count. Millions of dollars in federal and state aid were at stake for GI and the distinction of becoming the state’s third metropolitan area. Omissions can be costly. Grand Island officials wanted to count all people, even illegal immigrants. Grand Island was exactly 1480 people short of the goal, 48,520.  The language barrier between census workers and many legal and illegal citizens are likely the reason for coming up short.  Grand Island’s population is now 26.7 percent Hispanic.  That only counts the roughly 13,000 legal Hispanic citizens who took part in the census.  Discussions I’ve had with classmate Kristen Friesen, from GI, indicate that large numbers of Hispanics and possibly illegal’s are living together packed in small apartments when housing thinks only one or two live there.  Many are afraid to take the census because they fear deportation.  A simple drive through Grand Island will probably indicate more than 26.7 percent of the population is Hispanic.  Grand Island was 1480 shy of the goal because many of its citizens were too shy to take part in the count.

 Grand Island can follow Omaha by either challenging the results of the census or begin the annexation of surrounding lands. It will be 50,000 or more people if subdivisions south of town such as Alda are added by annexation.  50,000 people within the municipal limits of Grand Island would qualify the community for grants automatically, without having to apply and compete with other communities.  Grand Island would be eligible for more than $55 million in federal funding for infrastructure such as roads, bridges and wastewater treatment plants, as well as services in hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior centers, housing and fire and rescue.  My friend always says the Olive Garden won’t build a restaurant unless Grand Island hits 50,000, meaning many new businesses are just waiting on the last 1480 citizens to show up in Grand Island.

Both Omaha and Grand Island felt punched in the stomach by the results of the 2010 census.  The cities need to file a challenge after June 1st, after they gather all the numbers, to gain the residents and money they deserve.  After the results are then hopefully awarded, both Grand Island and Omaha need to be more aggressive in annexation to help boost the cities’ population wise and economically.

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