Census to show growth in Miss.

JACKSON — Despite an estimated 3,600 people having left the state last fiscal year, Mississippi had some growth to move even closer to a 3 million population mark, thanks to more births than deaths.

The state’s population is 2.951 million, an increase of 0.4 percent, according to state-by-state estimates the Census Bureau released Wednesday.

According to the last of the agency’s annual population estimates before the decennial count in 2010, Mississippians made up for the loss in net migration by having more children. The Census Bureau estimates there were 44,125 births through July 1 over 28,934 deaths.

One-year-old L’deja Blevins contributed to the estimated 11,784 growth in the state’s population in the fiscal year ending June 30.

Mississippi is a fine place to grow up, said Dorothy Blevins, L’deja’s grandmother, as she pushed her fifth grandchild in a stroller toward the Babies ‘R’ Us in Flowood on Wednesday.

“I’ve been here all my life,” she said.

Mississippi’s estimated growth keeps the state at its current ranking as 31st most populous. California, with 37 million residents, remains the state with the largest population, followed by Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois.

State leaders are beginning to talk up the upcoming 2010 census and the importance the count has on federal funding formulas and political representation.

Jackson City Councilman Kenneth Stokes plans to discuss the census at Tuesday’s council meeting as a way to urge city residents to participate.

A lot of urban residents are distrustful of census takers and are reluctant to answer the questions truthfully, he said. It is up to local leaders to “take the fear out of it,” he said.

“A lot of people say the black community has always been undercounted,” he said. “I think it is important that you put your best foot forward so that you are properly counted.”

That’s true on the Gulf Coast, too, where tens of thousands of people were displaced four years ago by Hurricane Katrina, Stokes said. Stokes said he fears an inaccurate count could cost the state political representation in Washington as it did a decade ago.

The 2000 census determined Mississippi grew to 2.8 million people in the 1990s, but that 10.5 percent growth was behind the national average of 13.2 percent. As a result, Mississippi lost a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Census figures also are used in awarding federal dollars. Each year, more than $300 billion in federal funds is awarded to states, based on the census data.

The projections released Wednesday determined the state has grown by 3.8 percent since 2000, while the nation has grown 9.1 percent.

Census Director Robert Groves has suggested a special census be conducted on the Gulf Coast after the 2010 census to count people who have yet to return. Someone would have to pay for it, he said.

Dan Turner, spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour, said there is little extra money available for the state to pay for a special count. It likely would not change much anyway, he said.

“I think the supposition is that a great deal of Mississippi Gulf Coast residents have returned at this point,” he said. “But the larger concern for Mississippi right now would be the cost. Given that we are looking at at least two, if not several, more really tough budget years, the idea of coming up with the extra money for another count on the Gulf Coast is a problem.”

There are no cost estimates for such a count, but some on the Gulf Coast are advocating for it.

Experts say there are some challenges to conducting a special census, including counting people who are temporarily staying at a home.

“Under normal conditions, there’s always a bit of error associated with taking any census,” said Audrey Singer, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution. “But at this point, I don’t think the pace of in-and-out migration in the Gulf Coast is as much as it was directly following the storms. So we’re not talking about a lot of in-and-out movement … It’s not high velocity.”

One of the more pressing challenges, she said, is whether local governments can afford to pay for it.

About 300 special censuses have been conducted since the 2000 count, said Pat Paytas, a program analyst with the census. Paytas said local governments request the counts so they can get more federal funding, but they must weigh the cost of paying for the special count against the benefit.

Mississippi was one of 10 states to lose people through migration.

Michigan, hard hit by the recession, lost the most with 87,339 people leaving for elsewhere in the United States. The state was one of three to record an overall population loss. Maine and Rhode Island also had small losses.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

Chris Joyner/The Clarion-Ledger