College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Population Experts Help Mississippi Get Maximum Benefit from Census Data

Whenever an individual needs information to apply for a federal grant or lawmakers need figures to redistrict the Mississippi Legislature, the Center for Population Studies at the University of Mississippi provides the U.S. Census data necessary to accomplish the tasks.

“People use census data for all kinds of projects,” said Clifford Holley, the center’s director. “And the role of the center is constantly changing.”

Probably the largest share of the center’s data requests comes from people applying for federal grants, Holley said. “Over $400 billion a year are allocated based on funding formulas that require some census data.”

The census has had both positive and negative effects on Mississippi, Holley said. For example, Mississippi lost its fifth congressional seat in 2000 and census data was used to redistrict the state Legislature, as well as cities and towns.

“This gave Mississippi the highest number of black elected officials in the nation,” Holley said.

Even people who feel the government is too big should support the census, he said.

“The best way to shrink the government is to make it more efficient,” Holley explained. “The way to do that is to make spending decisions based on need and not political clout.”

To promote public participation in the 2010 census, the center’s personnel have conducted numerous speeches, workshops and presentations for groups such as the Mississippi Municipal League, the Mississippi Library Commission, the Mississippi chapter of the American Planning Association, the Mississippi Municipal Clerks Association and senior field representatives from the Dallas Regional Census Office.

“Both Lynn Woo (a research associate in the center) and I participated in local efforts in the L-O-U community by putting up posters and signs encouraging people to mail back their forms,” Holley said. “We also participated in the National Blitz Day April 10.”

Participation in the 2010 U.S. Census is important because it counts the population, which does not happen yearly like other surveys, Holley said.

“The census also uses the American Community Survey to collect data on a yearly basis,” he said. “The ACS allows for more timely updates to data, but also places an additional burden on users to pick the right data set and to understand the limitations of data collected from a much smaller sample.”

Though Internet access allows most people to look up basic information online, the center continues to provide technical advice, computer assistance and simple analysis (such as sorting data, computing indices and some thematic mapping), Holley said. Private companies create detailed tables for a fee from the Census Bureau’s raw data.

The State Data Center Program is one of the Census Bureau’s longest and most successful partnerships. The partnership between the 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the island areas, and the bureau was created in 1978 to make data available to the public through a network of state agencies, universities, libraries, and regional and local governments.

For more information about the UM Center for Population Studies, call 662-915-7288 or go to https://www.olemiss.edu/depts/population_studies/