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U.S. Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt Discusses 'Largest Civic Ceremony in American History'

Aired December 28, 2000 - 1:36 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: Remember when you received that thick form earlier in the year? Well, the Census Bureau has now released the first results from those forms from this year's nationwide head count, which is used, among other things, to reassign the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Well, the new figures show four states each gaining two seats -- let me take you to the map right here. Georgia and Florida have gains. You see there they have the column plus 2, plus 2. They've gained in the Southeast. Then Texas, which has displaced New York as the nation's second most populous state -- that is an amazing figure -- has gained, too, as well.

Now let me take to you the West: Arizona.

Two big states in the Northeast, New York and Pennsylvania, over here, have both lost two House seats each. And in a surprise, both Indiana and Michigan were among the eight states losing one seat each. Census officials say the U.S. population now stands at 281.4 million people, an increase of 13.2 percent over the last census in 1990.

I know we've thrown a lot of facts and figures at you, but we want to put it in perspective so we're going to go now to tell you how all of those numbers will affect your life, and also your congressional representation and redistricting.

We turn to the man in charge of the entire operation. Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt joins us now from our Washington bureau.

Kenneth, thanks for joining us.

KENNETH PREWITT, U.S. CENSUS BUREAU DIRECTOR: My pleasure.

HALL: What does this mean to the average American?

PREWITT: Well, it's actually a good census from the point of the view of the American people because they really have now a much better picture of kind of who we are, how we're growing, what regions are expanding more rapidly. And as the other census products come out, much more detailed information, it really is a way to get a portrait of this country as we move into the new century.

HALL: And so when were busy filling out our census forms -- and some people didn't -- this is the result. This is why it's so important, because it literally changes the balance of power Washington.

PREWITT: You're absolutely right, Andria.

Look, in 1790, we did the first census. Thomas Jefferson administered it. And it was to make certain that we put the representation where the people were. And that's why we do this every 10 years, to reassign seats in the House to different state, dependent upon population growth.

HALL: Explain this figure for me. I think this is one of those things that, you know, if you're ever doing Trivial Pursuit you'll want to remember this fact. We said it earlier: Texas has displaced New York as the nation's second most populous state. Explain those figures. Break it down for us.

PREWITT: Well, for a very long time, of course, New York was the largest state. Then it was displaced by California, and now Texas. And what we have seen over the centuries is a steady westward and southwestward movement of our population. And this is simply continuing that trend. So now we have Texas as a larger state than New York.

HALL: Ken, there were complaints that large numbers of individuals were not counted in this census. Can you respond to that?

PREWITT: All censuses have some missed persons and some persons who are erroneously included. We continue to do a lot of very difficult quality checks on our census numbers to try to determine how many people are missed, how many people are erroneously included.

I should say that a census count of 281.4 million suggests to us a very robust count. That does not mean we did not miss people. We will know that in about, oh, seven or eight weeks when we've finished all of our quality assurance work.

HALL: So, Ken, you weren't disillusioned by the response to this census in 1990?

PREWITT: No, we had a very good response by the population. We sent the questionnaire out and about 67 percent of the people returned it. And of course we don't stop then. We go out and knock on the doors of the other 33 percent of the households. When we knocked on those doors, we got a very high level of cooperation. We feel like the American people have really stepped forward in this census. It's really the largest civic ceremony in American history. And for the most part, the American people really did do their civic duty.

HALL: Ken Prewitt, these are just the preliminary numbers. I'm sure you'll have a breakdown for us later on in the week. We'll be able to read more about that. And certainly people can head to our Web site to get more information.

Ken Prewitt with the U.S. Census Bureau, thank you very much.

PREWITT: Thank you.

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