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DOC: No reason to question validity of census

Commerce Department deputy director Lelei Peau testified before the House Government Operations Committee on Tuesday saying that “we have no reason to question the validity” of the 2010 Census population for American Samoa.

As of Apr. 1, 2010 the territory’s population was 55,519, which represents a decrease of 3.1 percent (or 1,772) from the 2000 Census population of 57,291 but ASG’s former chief statistician Meleisea V. Filiga cited the possibility of an undercount for the territory in a report.

The reaction from Meleisea, whose report was carried by the local media, prompted the House committee to hold a hearing, where Peau said that the DOC takes seriously any questions raised about official demographic or economic information about American Samoa, especially since that information is used by the federal government for a variety of purposes, including the distribution of federal grants.

He said DOC was not completely surprised by the 2010 census count putting American Samoa’s population at 55,519. “We knew that our population estimates for the years between 2000 and 2010 were just that — estimates,” he said. “They were not counts.”

Peau recalled a portion of Meleisea’s report which states in part that the 2010 count “indicated that American Samoa has a declining population: either American Samoa has a dying population, or that thousands and thousands of residents have relocated elsewhere... between 2000 and 2010, the natural growth amounted to 13,890.”

“If this natural growth is added to the count of 2000, then we expected a 2010 census count of 69,992,” Meleisea stated, noting that American Samoa could have a “possible undercount of close to 14,000 people or 25 percent.”

Peau said DOC believes that the answer is cited in Meleisea’s statement that “thousands and thousands of residents have relocated elsewhere”, adding — “in other words, the problem is in Mr. Filiga’s migration estimates.”

He said DOC believes that the Census population count “has more credibility than the migration estimates” and cited reasons, including travel frequency (arrivals and departures) upon which the migration estimates are largely based, and does not indicate residency or migration status.

Additionally, since 2006, only non U.S. passport holders are required to fill out arrival and departure forms. Moreover, school enrollment, ASG employment, internet connections, motor vehicle registrations and licenses are “indicators of increased activities not necessarily population growth.”

“Hence population estimating — as opposed to counting — is a difficult business. It relies on data ‘thought’ to be related to population, and there is a question of whether that data itself is accurate,” he said.

He also says that employment is one enduring and tested indicator of population migration, which dates as far back as 1952, with the departure of the U.S. Navy and its jobs, prompting about 5% of the local population to board Navy ships to migrate to Hawai’i.

“Very high levels of out-migration from American Samoa are indicated from the extreme economic decline of the last few years of the last decade,” he said and pointed out that in June this year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimated that employment declined by 3,737 jobs between 2008 and 2009, which didn’t include the 2,000 jobs lost in 2009 due to the closure of COS Samoa Packing.

“Therefore, 5,737 jobs were lost or 30% of the territory’s jobs in 2009,” he said.

If, conservatively, only one-half of these workers left the territory and took four family members with them, the population would have declined by 11,5000, which is about 83 percent of the claimed undercount, he said, further noting that little more would have to happen to account for the remaining supposed undercount.

He said there is “no adequate basis for serious questions” about the 2010 census — but DOC does not discourage anyone from raising such questions.

Because of time constraints the House committee opted for a call back for next Tuesday for another hearing Peau and DOC official Alex Zodiacal to answer questions from lawmakers.

Also being called to testify, is a representative from the Office of Samoan Affairs, after Rep. Galumalemana B. Satele suggested bringing in someone from this office, as they deal with villages and counties and would have a better idea of people residing within their boundaries.

Meleisea is scheduled to appear this morning before the House committee.