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We never quite settled the issue of the dualing statistical bureaus and their respective takes on San Diego population growth. The U.S. Census Bureau, as you may recall, indicated that San Diego County was experiencing negative net migration, meaning that more people were moving out of the county than moving in, to such an extent that population growth had actually gone negative in 2005. The California Department of Finance, meanwhile, reckoned that both net migration and population growth were positive.

So why the big difference, and more importantly, who was right?

SANDAG researcher Beth Jarosz offered the following:

Both agencies use administrative records (births, deaths, and other government records – such as driver’s license records and tax return information) as the basis for their estimates. DOF relies more heavily upon driver’s license records and the Census Bureau relies more heavily on tax return information from the IRS.

SANDAG utilizes the Department of Finance figures in their own calculations, so it’s not hard to guess which set of data they believe to be more accurate. The same could be said for the economists at the Chamber of Commerce, whom I harrassed at the outset of this whole adventure when trying to determine why their numbers differed from those of the Census Bureau.

A more explicit opinion on the matter was offered by local real estate analyst Gary London in an article he wrote earlier this year:

The census is based on the “long form” survey that is sent to and filled out by one in six persons, neither a particularly representative nor random sample. Moreover, there is no way to track the previous location of first time tax filers, an important source that is relied upon by the U.S. Census Bureau.

While the state uses federal tax returns, it also incorporates Department of Motor Vehicles data and change of address to assess the migration of the working population. Economists and demographers agree that this data source is the most reliable in estimating migration.

Mr. London’s colleague, Nathan Moeder, also pointed out in an email that positive trends in job growth, office space absorption, and the like provide further evidence that the population is not, in fact, shrinking.

So, in the case of the federal Census Bureau versus California’s own Department of Finance, various local smart people have cast their vote for the home team. I guess traffic’s not going to get any better after all.

– RICH TOSCANO

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