[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[June 2, 1998]
[Pages 857-863]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks in a Roundtable Discussion on the 2000 Census in Houston, Texas
June 2, 1998

    The President. Thank you. Thank you for that wonderful welcome, and 
thank you, Marta, for the wonderful work you're 
doing here. I enjoyed my tour. I enjoyed shaking hands with all the 
folks who work here and the people who are taking advantage of all your 
services. And I'm glad to be here. Mr. Mayor, you can be proud, and I know you are proud of this 
center and the others like it in this city.
    I'd like to thank all the Members of Congress who are here from the 
Texas delegation, and a special thanks to Representatives 
Maloney and Sawyer for coming from Washington with me today and for their 
passionate concern to try to get an accurate census.
    I thank the Texas land commissioner, Garry Mauro, for being here; and the members of the legislature, 
Senator Gallegos, Senator Ellis, Congressman--Representative Torres, and others, if they're here; the other city officials; 
Mr. Boney, the president of the city 
council; Mr. Eckels, the county executive 
judge; Rueben Guerrero, the SBA Regional 
Administrator. If there are others--I think our Deputy Secretary of 
Commerce, Mr. Mallett, is here, who is 
from Houston. I thank you all for being here.
    Before I say what I want to say about the census, I think since this 
is the first time I have been in Texas since the fires began to rage in 
Mexico that have affected you, if you'll forgive me, I'd like to just 
say a word about that. The smoke and the haze from these fires has 
become a matter of serious concern for people in Texas and Louisiana and 
other Gulf

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States. It has gotten even further up into our country. And of course, 
the greatest loss has been suffered by our friends and neighbors across 
the border in Mexico. Now, we are doing everything we know to do to 
help, both to help the people of Mexico and to stem the disadvantageous 
side effects of all the smoke and haze coming up here into the United 
    I had an extended talk with President Zedillo about it. And, of course, here we had the EPA and 
Health and Human Services and FEMA monitoring the air quality. We're 
working very hard with the Mexican Government to help them more 
effectively fight these fires. We provided more than $8 million in 
emergency assistance to Mexico since January, with 4 firefighting 
helicopters, an infrared imaging aircraft to detect fire hotspots, 
safety, communications, and other firefighting equipment for over 3,000 
firefighters. Over 50 experts from our Federal agency have provided 
important technical advice. And tomorrow our Agriculture Secretary, Dan 
Glickman, and our AID Administrator, Brian 
Atwood, are going to Mexico to see these 
fires firsthand and to see what else we can do in consultation with 
Mexican officials.
    I think that we will be successful, but this has been a long and 
frustrating thing. As you probably know, we've had extended fires over 
the last year in Southeast Asia as well and in South America. This is a 
terrific problem that requires change in longstanding habits on the part 
of many people in rural areas in a lot of these countries, but it also 
is a function of the unusual weather conditions through which we have 
been living. And we'll continue to work on it.
    Now, let's talk about the census. Since our Nation's founding, the 
taking of the census has been mandated by the Constitution. How we have 
met this responsibility has changed and evolved over time as the country 
has grown in size and population, and as we've learned more about how to 
count people. Today I want to talk about the newest changes that we 
propose to make and how important it is to your work and your community. 
That's why we're here, so that we can put a human face on the census and 
its consequences.
    We do this every 10 years. The first time we had a census, Thomas 
Jefferson, who was then the Secretary of State, actually sent Federal 
marshals out on horseback to count heads. We relied on this system of 
sending workers out to count our people, household by household, person 
by person, for nearly two centuries. But as the population grew and 
people began to move more frequently, this process became increasingly 
both inefficient and ineffective, even as it became progressively more 
expensive. By the time we finished counting, we'd have to start all over 
again for the next census.
    In 1970, therefore, we started counting people by mail. For three 
decades now, Americans have been asked to fill out census forms that 
come in the mail and send them back for processing. Now we know that 
this method, too, needs to be updated. For a variety of reasons, 
millions of people, literally millions of people, did not send their 
1990 census form back. For the first time, the census in 1990 was less 
accurate than the one before it. Before that, the census had become 
increasingly more accurate.
    We know now that the census missed 8 million Americans living in 
inner cities and in remote rural areas. We know, too, interestingly 
enough, that it double-counted 4 million Americans, many of whom had the 
good fortune to own 2 homes. [Laughter] The number of people not counted 
in Los Angeles--in Los Angeles alone--was enough to fill a city as big 
as Tallahassee, the capital of Florida. The census missed 482,738 people 
in the State of Texas, 66,748 of them here in Houston.
    Now, if we are really going to strengthen our country and prepare 
for this new century, we have to have a full and accurate picture of who 
we are as a people and where we live. We rely on census statistics every 
day to determine where to build more roads and hospitals and child care 
centers, and to decide which communities need more Federal help for Head 
Start or Federal training programs, or for the WIC program. 
Marta and I just visited your WIC program here 
in this center, and we saw a baby being weighed and measured. The baby 
liked being weighed more than it liked being measured. I don't blame 
him. [Laughter]
    The WIC program is just one example. The Congress, with all the 
fights that we've had over the last 6 years, we've had pretty good 
success in getting a bipartisan majority to continue to put more money 
into the WIC program, because people know that it makes good sense to 
feed babies and take care of them and provide for them when they're 
young. But the funds, once appropriated, can only flow where they're 
needed if there is an accurate count of where the

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kids are. So, ironically, no matter how much money we appropriate for 
WIC, unless we actually can track where the children are, the program 
will be less than fully successful.
    Now, more than half of the undercounted in the last census were 
children. A disproportionate number of undercounted Americans were 
minorities. That means some of our most vulnerable populations routinely 
are omitted when it comes time to providing Federal funds for critical 
services. An inaccurate census distorts our understanding of the needs 
of our people, and in many respects, therefore, it diminishes the 
quality of life not only for them but for all the rest of us as well.
    That's why we have to use the most up-to-date, scientific, cost-
effective methods to conduct an accurate census. That's why--to go back 
to what Congressman Green said--we should follow 
the National Academy of Sciences' recommendations to use statistical 
sampling in the next census.
    Scientists and statisticians are nearly unanimous in saying that 
statistical sampling is the best way to get a full and fair count of our 
people for the 2000 census. It is estimated that if we use good 
statistical sampling, supplemented by what are called quality checks, 
where you go out into selected neighborhoods and actually count heads to 
make sure that the sampling is working, that we can cut the error rate 
to a tenth of a percent, or that in the next sample we would miss, out 
of a country of nearly 300 million people by then, only 300,000, as 
opposed to 8 million in the 1990 census.
    Now, as far as I know, nobody in this room had anything to do with 
coming up with this proposal. All of us just want an accurate count. 
Whatever the count is, wherever the people are, this is not a political 
issue; this is an American issue. But the people who know what they're 
doing tell us that this is the way we should do it. There is no serious 
dispute among the experts here.
    It is, therefore, I think, quite unfortunate that some in Congress 
have so vociferously opposed sampling, because improving the census 
shouldn't be a partisan issue. It's not about politics; it's about 
people. It's about making sure every American really and literally 
counts. It's about gathering fair and accurate information that we 
absolutely have to have if we're going to determine who we are and what 
we have to do to prepare all our people for the 21st century.
    In Texas, I would think every Republican would be just as interested 
as every Democrat in seeing that every Texan is counted, so that this 
State does not lose another billion dollars--or maybe 2 or 3 billion 
dollars by then--in undercounting, in ways that will help you to meet 
the challenge of your growing population and to seize the opportunities 
that are out there for all of you.
    So that's what we're here for. And all the folks on this panel, I 
want to thank them in advance for their willingness to be here, because 
I'm basically just going to listen to them now give you what I hope will 
be a fuller picture of what the consequences of this whole census issue 
are in very stark, clear human terms. But remember, it's not a political 
issue; it's a people issue. Nobody has got an ax to grind for any 
method; we should all want the most accurate method. And when it's all 
said and done, all we should want is to have every one of us properly, 
accurately, fairly, and constitutionally counted.
    Thank you very much. [Applause] Thank you.
    Well, as I said earlier, everybody here, around this panel, has a 
different perspective on the importance of the census. And I would like 
to hear some specific illustrations now about how the census is used and 
why the accuracy is important. And maybe we should start with Dr. Craven 
and with Dr. Kendrick--if you could start.

[Dr. Judith Craven, president, United Way of 
the Texas Gulf Coast in Houston, explained the importance of accurate 
census numbers to funding for services in the area.]

    The President. So this is very important because--so what you're 
saying is, when United Way funds are distributed, private funds----
    Dr. Craven. That's correct.
    The President. ----you need the census, first of all, to tell you 
where the problems are, and secondly, to know how much to give.
    Dr. Craven. How much to give and how we can leverage what's already 
being done by the Government, and making sure that Government dollars 
have come in an equitable amount to leverage and maximize the resources 
here to deliver those services.
    The President. This as an important point because it's something you 
almost never hear, that

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because of the work of United Ways all over America, and because of the 
way they work, and because of the generosity of the American people, if 
the census is inaccurate, it has an indirect, bad effect on private 
investment in people, in community needs, as well as on Government 
    Dr. Kendrick.

[Dr. Mary des Vignes-Kendrick, 
director, City of Houston Health Department, said that accurate census 
data was critical to public health and described its use in calculating 
community health data to identify problems, target resources, and 
measure the impact of interventions.]

    The President. Thank you very much. Maybe we could be a little more 
specific about what some of the specific repercussions are, or have 
been, as a result of the undercount in the 1990 census.
    Mr. Moreno, could you respond to that?

[Gilbert Moreno, president and chief 
executive officer, Association for the Advancement of Mexican-Americans, 
described the impact that the census would have on the Mexican-American 

    The President. Dr. Mindiola.

[Dr. Tatcho Mindiola, Jr., director, 
Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston, 
applauded the President's support of the statistical sampling method, 
explaining that the area of Houston in which the discussion was being 
held was likely to be undercounted if traditional methods were used.]

    The President. Thank you.
    Reverend Clemons.

[Rev. Harvey Clemons, Jr., pastor, 
Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, described how an accurate and 
comprehensive census count would help provide the tools needed to bring 
about community revitalization in hard-to-develop areas which had been 
traditionally undercounted.]

    The President. What about the business community? Ms. Joe, would you 
like to talk about that?

[Ms. Glenda Joe of Great Wall Enterprises, a 
marketing, advertising, and public relations firm catering to Asian-
American markets and demographics, said that inaccurate census data 
discouraged corporate ventures and investment in the region and also 
reduced funding allocations for Asian nonprofit organizations. She noted 
that the sharp growth of the Asian-American community in the Gulf Coast 
region of Texas had not been accurately reflected in the census.]

    The President. If I might say--this is a problem--this particular 
problem she has mentioned is a bigger problem with Asian-Americans than 
with any other minority group, but it is also a general problem in the 
work that we're trying to do around the country in revitalizing the 
inner cities.
    If you look at the American unemployment rate now, which is about 
4.3 percent--it's the lowest it's been since 19--I think '74, '73, 
something like that, now--and when I became President, the conventional 
theory among economists--we had these huge arguments, I remember, after 
I was elected in '92 and before I took office, and we got everybody down 
around the table at the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock and talked 
about this. Conventional economic wisdom was that if unemployment 
dropped much below 6 percent, you would have terrible inflation, the 
economy would be in bad shape, and we'd have to run it back up again.
    Well, the American people have proved that that's not so, through 
high levels of productivity and technology. But then you ask yourself, 
well, how can we keep this economy growing now that--if the national 
unemployment rate is down to 4.3 percent? How can we grow the economy 
without inflation? The obvious answer is, go to the places where the 
unemployment rate is still higher, where people will work for 
competitive wages, and where they can create markets because they do 
have money to spend if people invest it there.
    So, you see this also in Hispanic communities in places like Los 
Angeles, where we've put together a $400 million community development 
bank to go into these neighborhoods and make small loans to 
entrepreneurs to start businesses. You see it in these community 
development banks we've put up in New York and elsewhere. In New York 
City, the unemployment rate is still almost 9 percent, so obviously 
there is an enormous opportunity there for growth. And a lot of the 
unemployed people in New York are Hispanic, African-American, Asians, 
people from the Caribbean--not counted. So you go and you say, ``Well, 
make me a loan, and I'll go start

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this kind of business, and there are this thousand many people in my 
neighborhood and in my market area.'' And somebody picks up a census and 
says, ``No, there are not, there are only half that many.''
    So this is a free enterprise issue as well, because I'm convinced 
that we have an opportunity that we've not had in 30 years to really 
crack the unemployment and the underemployment problem and the lack of 
business ownership in inner cities throughout this country. But to do 
it, even if you have generous and sympathetic bankers and a Government 
program that says you're supposed to target low-income areas, you've got 
to know what the market is.
    So it's a problem--the one you said is not just specific to you in 
here, it's a huge general problem throughout America that an accurate 
count would help. So it actually, I believe, would help us to keep the 
growth of the economy going and help us to lower the unemployment rate 
further by knowing where investment capital could flow.
    Let me just ask--and I guess I'd like to start with Dr. 
Klineberg because he started the Houston 
area survey--how possible do you think it is to get an accurate survey, 
and what do you think--what steps need to be taken? And what arguments 
do you think we could make to the skeptics who say no statistician with 
a computer can compete with people going around door-to-door and 
counting heads?
    This is a--you know, it's kind of like a--it's not an easy argument 
to win. You know, the average person, you just come up to somebody and 
say, ``We're here to figure out how many people are in this room. Would 
you think it would be better to have an expert look in the room and 
guess or have somebody walk up and down the rows and count?'' So we've 
got to figure out how to--we've got to win this argument with average 
American people who aren't used to thinking about these sort of things. 
And we have to prove that we can do it. So maybe we ought to talk about 
where we go from here. But, Doctor, would you like to say a few things?

[Stephen Klineberg, professor of 
sociology, Rice University, described how the census was used and why 
accuracy was important to the work of sociology and political science in 
understanding America at a time of great demographic change, from an 
amalgam of European nationalities to an amalgam of worldwide 
nationalities. Reverend Clemons 
commended the President for his support of statistical sampling, but 
urged collecting detailed data in the census.]

    The President. Let me ask you another way, because this is where I 
think--obviously, I'm here in part because I was--because I wanted to 
come here to illustrate the importance of the census. I'm also here in 
part, to be candid, because the outcome of this battle is not clear. We 
all know that. That's why Congressman Sawyer and Congresswoman Maloney 
came all the way from Washington with me today.
    And suppose I got all of you, and I put you in a van. We all got in 
the van; we drove across town; and we stopped at a little real estate 
office. The people had never had any contact at all with the census 
except they always filled out their form--or we stopped in a service 
station, and we met a couple guys that--they never thought about this 
issue for 5 minutes. They're not conscious that it affects them at all. 
How can we convince ordinary citizens in all the congressional 
districts, whether they're represented by Republicans or Democrats, 
without regard to party, that statistical sampling will give them a more 
accurate count than hiring 6 million people to go door to door? What can 
you say that is consistent with the experience of ordinary working 
Americans that will make them understand that?
    Dr. Mindiola.
    Dr. Mindiola. Mr. President, if I 
were you I would tell them this story. Most Americans, I think the vast 
majority of Americans, go for medical checkups, and during that process, 
they do a blood test. But when you go get your blood test, the doctor or 
the nurse does not draw 100 percent of your blood out of your body. They 
draw a sample. And based upon that sample--[laughter]--and based upon 
that sample, they can tell your cholesterol level, whether you have too 
much acid in your blood, et cetera, et cetera. And I think in those 
common, everyday terms, the average American citizen should be able to 
understand the validity of sampling, because that's a common, everyday 
    The President. That may go down in history as the Dracula theory of 
the census. [Laughter] That's pretty good, though.
    Go ahead, Marta.

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[Marta Moreno, director, Magnolia Multi-Service 
Center, a Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC) program facility, stated 
the importance of making people feel comfortable with filling out the 
census form and advocated public service announcements to achieve that 
goal. She also suggested hiring minority census personnel to improve 
communication with the households visited.]

    The President. Gilbert.
    Mr. Moreno. I think that transportation 
ultimately is one of the most impacted areas, and boy, in Houston if 
you're sitting in that rush hour traffic, you're going to have our vote, 
because you're sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic in 100 degree 
    The President. So you'd make a practical argument.
    Mr. Moreno. It is. Houston, as you know, 
is the fourth fastest growing city in sheer numbers. Dallas is third. 
The towns in south Texas are growing at an incredible rate, and they're 
stacked on a very poor highway that links those cities.
    The President. We're trying to build you one, though.
    Mr. Moreno. Yes, exactly. It's dangerous 
to drive from San Antonio to Houston on a Sunday night because the 
traffic is just stacked.
    The President. You know, one of the things that I find works 
sometimes is the analogy to political polling. I mean, most people 
understand that a poll taken before an election is a statistical sample. 
And sometimes it's wrong, but more often than not it's right. And there 
you may only sample a thousand people out of millions of voters. I mean, 
there are ways to do this, but I just think--I wish you would all think 
about it because, again--the other point that I think is important that 
a lot of you have pointed out is that, a lot of people, you can send all 
the forms you want to their house, and they either won't or can't fill 
out the forms. And we know that in some cases, almost--and maybe even 
without an attempt to deceive, people have gotten census forms if they 
have a vacation home or two homes, so that ironically, the most 
overcounted people tended to be upper income people who would be the 
least likely to benefit from a lot of these investments, and they might 
have innocently filled out the forms twice, not necessarily wanting to 
be overcounted, and just done it.
    So I think that that's--the other thing is to point out that people 
are moving all the time, and sometimes people aren't home, and sometimes 
somebody is home and somebody is not, which means that even if you 
thought sending out 10 million people to physically count the other 200 
and--how many people did you say we were--268 million of us--it may not 
be physically possible to do. So that even if you could do it, even if 
we could put 10 or 15 or 20 million people on the street for a couple of 
months, it might do no more of an accurate job than a very good sample.
    The only place I know that probably got a good head count recently--
well, you may have seen the press, where they have a much more 
controlled society, where people don't get to move around on their own, 
is Iraq, where they shut the whole country down for a day. You remember 
that? Nobody moves; everybody stays home; kids have to play in front of 
their house--stay there. That doesn't seem to me to be a practical 
alternative for us. [Laughter]

[Ms. Joe said it was necessary to convince 
citizens that the accuracy derived from statistical sampling would serve 
their self-interest. Reverend Clemons 
agreed that minorities were reluctant to answer the census because they 
believed the information would do harm rather than good and that 
reversing that perception was essential. Dr. Mindiola stated that the census was not a political issue since 
people who were not willing to fill out a census form were also not 
likely to vote. Dr. des Vignes-Kendrick commended facilities such as the Magnolia Multi-Service 
Center and underscored the need for accurate census data in order to 
more fully serve their communities. She stated that if census data could 
be demonstrated to link service, resources, and opportunity to the 
community, participation would increase.]

    Mr. Moreno. Mr. President, we're about 
out of time, but we did want to thank you tremendously for your visit to 
the East End of Houston. This is a real historic visit. It's my 
understanding that you're the first President since FDR to visit and 
    The President. Is that right?
    Mr. Moreno. Hopefully, it won't be that 
long again.
    The President. Thank you. Let me say one other thing. I would like 
to close this--thank

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you all for your participation, and thank all of you--but I would like 
to close by putting this issue even in a larger context if I might, just 
to close.
    To me, having an accurate census is a big part of having a strategy 
for racial reconciliation in America and building one American community 
that works. Why? Because if people feel they're undercounted, and they 
don't get--their children don't get the help they need, whether it's an 
education or health care or whatever--it will breed, inevitably, a sense 
of resentment, a sense of unfairness, a sense that people aren't really 
part of the mainstream and the future. And this is really important.
    I know a lot of people think I'm obsessed with this, but I think the 
fact that we are growing more diverse as the world gets smaller is an 
enormous, enormous asset for the United States in the 21st century if we 
really live together on terms of the quality and harmony and 
cooperation--and if we're growing together, not being split apart.
    But if you look at what I have to spend my time doing as your 
President when I deal with countries around the world, how much of it is 
dealing with people who are burdened down with group resentments? Why 
were we all rejoicing when the Irish voted for the peace accord? Because 
the Catholics and the Protestants had given up their group resentment to 
work together for a unified future. What is the problem in Kosovo, a 
place that most Americans had never heard of before a few months ago? 
Ethnic Albanians and Serbs fighting over group resentments. What was 
Bosnia about? The same thing. What is going on in the Middle East? What 
is the dynamic within India now? It's just all in the news because of 
the nuclear test, where you have a Hindu party claiming that the Hindus 
historically have been insufficiently respected and oppressed by the 
Muslim minority, and you have group resentments.
    I mean, this whole world is so full of people's resentments because 
they think that the group they're a part of is not getting a fair deal 
from everybody else if they happen to be bigger or richer or whatever.
    We have--with all of our problems in America--we have slowly, 
steadily, surely been able to chip away at all of the those barriers and 
come together. That, in the end, may be the largest issue of all about 
the census: Can we succeed in building one America without knowing who 
we are, how many we are, where we are, and what kind of situation we're 
living in? I think the answer to that is, it will be a lot harder. And 
if we do it right, we'll be a lot stronger.
    Thank you all, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. at the Magnolia Multi-Service 
Center. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor Lee Brown of Houston; State 
Senators Mario Gallegos, Jr., and Rodney Ellis; State Representative 
Gerard Torres; Jew Don Boney, Jr., president, Houston City Council; 
Robert A. Eckels, Harris County Commissioners Court; and President 
Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico.