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Officials dispute figures in latest Census estimate

Posted 4/18/12 (Wed)

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

The North Dakota Census Committee released Census estimates at the beginning of April that show huge jumps in population across the state. Those growth estimates, however, did not show much growth for McKenzie County.
The report released April 5, showed that Williams County was the third fastest growing county in the country, up almost nine percent. Stark County was 20th with a four percent increase and Ward County was 25th, up almost four percent.
Micro areas are areas that have a population of less than 50,000, but have at least one urban center of 10,000. Of micro areas around the country, Williston was the fastest growing, with Dickinson ranking fourth and Minot coming in eighth.
So with all the estimated growth being reported for many adjacent counties, what do estimated numbers say about McKenzie County?
The estimated growth for 2011 compared to 2010 for McKenzie County was 659, which gives the entire county an estimated population of 7,019. Anyone driving through McKenzie County can see that number is a gross misrepresentation of the population currently working and residing here.
“You don’t have to go far to see that’s wrong,” says Gene Veeder, executive director of the McKenzie County Job Development Authority. “The Census numbers haven’t been able to keep up. We don’t use them or even pay attention to them. There’s no validity to them.”
The question then becomes - why are other counties showing record growth while McKenzie County is having comparable growth, but not displaying the same estimated growth numbers?
Due to the intricacies of Census estimates, there are a number of reasons why certain kinds of growth are not accurately accounted for.
“There is a difference, however, between resident population and those who are here only temporarily and view their home residence in another state,” explains Rod Backman, North Dakota Census Committee chairman. “This is especially important in western North Dakota where town sizes are rapidly increasing and that growth does not seem to be captured in Census figures.”
Census figures generally lag two years behind actual growth, according to Backman. This is due to the time it takes to receive and analyze tax returns as a snapshot of how many are living and working in a specific area. This reliance, however, can cause misrepresentations.
“When temporary workers file tax returns, they can file as non-residents,” says Backman. “Those numbers will not be recorded in the North Dakota Census.”
There is also the problem of living quarters like man camps. The Census refers to housing like man camps as “group quarters,” which also includes residences like nursing homes and college dorms.
The 2010 Census included group quarter numbers, but those numbers were not updated for the 2011 estimates. The resident numbers for different group quarters in 2010 was the same number used for 2011 estimates, accounting for no growth in those type of residences.
“This further reinforces my position that we can’t allow any more man camps. We have to get people out of these camps and RVs and into more permanent housing,” says Brent Sanford, Watford City mayor. “We are not getting the state and federal funding we need because these numbers don’t reflect the population we have.”
Backman, however, believes that what was non-existent in the 2011 estimates, will be amply reflected in the next available estimates.
“With more numbers available for tax returns and group quarters, expect McKenzie County to get a big bump up the next time estimates come out,” says Backman.
The next update from the Census will be available in July. Even with many tax returns being filed as non-residents, hopefully there will be more precise numbers to reflect the reality of growth in McKenzie County, not just the technicalities that can limit Census data.