Drop in Am Samoa’s Census count prompts future funding concerns
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A local government review committee, established to assess the population count before closure of the 2020 census enumeration for the 2020 American Samoa Census didn’t come up with credible evidence to challenge the count due to the lack of better secondary administrative data, says ASG Commerce Department chief statistician Meleisea Vai Filiga, who was also the Area Census manager during the census count.
The US Census Bureau released last Thursday the 2020 Census for American Samoa and it shows the population count in 2020 decreased by 10.5% from the 2010 census. As of April 1, 2020, the territory’s population was 49,710, down from the 2010 Census figure of 55,519.
The drop in population count has prompted concerns from some local leaders and others in the community who question how the population dropped below 55,000 and that there were expectations for the count to be higher since the DOC mid-year 2020 estimate population — as of July 2020 was 57,637, although the 2021 estimate dropped down to 51,561 at of July 1st this year.
Responding to Samoa News inquiries last Friday, Meleisea pointed out that: “Natural growth of the local population showed a declining trend i.e., less and less children born and more and more deaths.”
“The only other component affecting change is the net migration or residents relocating to the US and other places less people coming in to live in American Samoa,” he explained.
Furthermore, the net migration continues to be a challenge in the production of population estimates.
“With the many data systems already available to the government for monitoring net migration, lack of coordination, data sharing and analysis continued to be an obstacle in demographic analysis,” he explained.
Asked if there was an analysis conducted by DOC on the census data, Meleisea explained that before the closure of the 2020 census enumeration, the local government was given an opportunity to assess and review the count.
And a local review committee was established to conduct this review. Secondary data sources including school enrollment, building permits and new housing units were utilized for comparative and trend analysis, he said.
“The committee did not come up with any credible evidence to challenge the enumeration count due to the lack of better secondary administrative data,” Meleisea said.
He added that, a “Post Enumeration Survey is scientifically a better approach to assess the completeness of the census coverage.”
As to the impact of the decrease in population to federal funding for the territory, he said that formula grants — which are based on population — will be affected by the low count.
The US Census also released last Thursday, the housing unit count, which states that there were 11,807 housing units in 2020, representing an increase of 7.7% from the 2010 Census housing unit count of 10,963.
Meleisea acknowledged the increase in the housing units despite the drop in population.
“There are more houses but less people so we would expect a higher vacancy rate and lower number of persons per housing unit,” he said.
He explained that the “housing market buildup” began with the federally funded, 1602 housing program a few years ago — “and continues today as more and more federal assistance becomes available.”
Meleisea noted that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted everything including the census enumeration.
“The question on off-island stranded residents was a concern despite procedural coverage to count them at their usual place of residence,” he explained.
“Such procedure should be supported by the completion of Individual Census Reports at the temporary place of residence in the States and be counted back to their usual place of residence in American Samoa,” he said.
He confirmed what several residents told Samoa News weeks after the enumeration was completed last year that some people refused to be counted and there were concerns by some residents, because of the “immigration status, not being updated.”
“There were people that refused the count and either proxy or last resort procedures were applied,” he said. “Some people were reluctant to provide their information because of mistrust in government and possible misuse of their information.”
“In all, everyone is affected when there are more people demanding government services and resource allocations than those counted in the official census,” he concluded.
DOC conducted many public awareness events at the start of the census and throughout the enumeration, urging all those living in American Samoa - “no matter your immigration status” - to be counted in the 2020 Census.
It was also emphasized to the community their right to privacy and that information gathered during the census is treated with confidentiality under federal law.