Friday, June 23, 2006

Population estimates

The U.S. Census Bureau just put out its most recent population estimates and several North Dakota cities are estimated to have lost population from 2004 to 2005. The Census Bureau claims that, in that period, Fargo lost 1,281 people (down 1.4%), Minot lost 359 people (down 1%), and Grand Forks lost 289 people ( down 0.6%). Those numbers have officials in all three cities mad - officials who have maintained that their cities are growing. Fargo is mad, Minot is mad, and Grand Forks is mad.

In Grand Forks, the Census Bureau claims that the population in 2005 was 49,792. On the other end of the spectrum, the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) estimates that the Grand Forks population in 2005 was 53,230...up 1,066 from 2004. Why would the Census Bureau claim a drop of 289 while the MPO estimates an increase of 1,066? It may be reasonable to claim that both parties have something to gain out of spinning the numbers how they see fit. The Census Bureau has a history of underestimating local populations in years that an official census has not been taken. Estimates throughout the 90s showed a shrinking North Dakota when we, in fact, grew slightly during the decade.

I have to say that I put more faith in the MPO's estimate. I don't believe that Grand Forks lost any population between 2004 to 2005. However, perhaps the MPO's estimate of a gain of 1,066 is too optimistic. Still, how can I look at all of the residential developments that have taken place in the past few years and see anything but a growing city? At the same time that new houses and apartments are being built, older houses that are placed on the market are being snatched up quickly. In other words, we have more and more occupied housing units. That would seem to suggest a growing population.

I don't want to get so caught up in the population numbers, though. Grand Forks has much more to offer than a population estimate. I do believe that the population numbers actually are very good in Grand Forks, but I also believe that there are many other positive indicators. Regardless of some naysayers, we have a relatively high quality of life in Grand Forks. We have good schools, good parks, good healthcare, wonderful neighborhoods, a healthy business community, record numbers in building permits and sales tax collections, a booming university, a very low crime rate, and a vibrant art and cultural community. Those are the things that make a city...not dubious population estimates put out by a government agency.

Update - 6/26/2006
In today's Herald, Tom Dennis questions the estimates by the census bureau. I agree wholeheartedly. Richard Rathge and his gang at the State Data Center need to take a look at their procedures. Why have a data center that makes calculations that all to often turn out to be miscalculations? Not only does it make the data center look bad, but their inaccurate estimates that falsely show a declining population unnecessarily place a bad light on local cities. They say that local cities are shrinking when, in fact, many are almost certainly growing (some substantially). What good is a data center that can't get its act together and turn out objective and accurate estimates?

21 comments:

JGS said...

We're pracitcally 55,000. We're certainly competing with second place again with Bismarck. Although we were second but the FLOOOOOOOOD put us back a few years. Congrats on the lead, Bismarck. We're coming back! (once again excuse my apprent binge drinking, since we rule at it!)

Peder Rice said...

JGS, posting at 4:25 in the morning? Wow. I'm not any better tonight, but at least I'm working. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm not necessarily convinced Grand Forks' population is growing as much as the local number-crunchers say. Yes, we've made some gains since the flood, but judging from all the building going on in the south end of town, I wonder if our population is shifting instead of growing. There's a lot of houses on the market near the center of the city. Just an observation.

PartTime said...

It doesn't surprise me that the Census Bureau's estimates differ from the Metropolitan Planning Organization's estimates, seems like they have differed repeatedly over the years, but every decade when the official census is taken door to door, the MPO's estimates are always closer. It seems like the state demographer from NDSU Richard Rathge just looks at certain points period and then stands firm on his estimates. Maybe that's what he has to do since his estimates are the "official" estimates, but you would think that when the MPO's estimates over the years have proven to be a closer estimate than the Census Bureau's in non census counting years, that the state demographer would look at that and not stand firm on his estimates alone.

GrandForksGuy said...

Maybe I'm wrong, but Richard Rathge has always come off to me as really not wanting Grand Forks to grow. In past years, he has made some very "down" statements on Grand Forks' potential.

ben said...

Rathge is a GF hater. Even before the 2000 census, he had GF way lower than the numbers came out. Population shifting to the south is true, but the housing marked it still extremely tight, with homes on the market for less than one week in most cases. I sold my north-end GF home in less than one week for more than asking price. This shows that there is still high demand for all areas of town.
I still don't know if we are catching Bismarck or not, but we are for sure growing faster than we have been. Look in the GF Herald today and see Kingsbury's report. Twice the single family housing starts as last year, which was already a record year....yeah, we're losing population all right...keep up the smoking, Rathge.

Benny said...

I'm confused, doesn't Rathge's dept. specialize in population data whereas, people who refute his findings are just going by, I don't know, "feel". The downtown Browstones for example are all going to be occupied by long time residents of Grand Forks that are just moving to another location.

You local homer bloggers are obsessed with "show me the data" when the opinion bucks your "feelings" but, when a discussion refutes your side, "feelings" are just fine.

Just wondering, people who refute the State Data Center, where's your data and/or hard facts?

I don't deny that Gand Forks is growing, I'd just like to see the evidence. After all, that's what communities are supposed to do. Grow, I mean. I'm just not the type to jump up and down when something happens that is, for lack of a better explanation, supposed to do.

GrandForksGuy said...

Benny, thanks for the comments.

Rathge's agency should be able to produce the most reliable population estimates of any agency or governing body. However, history has shown this to not be the case. Rathge and his team have made bad predictions many times before. These bad predictions are only proven to be inaccurate once the ten-year census takes place. Why should we trust a agency that routinely makes bad estimates?

In Grand Forks, it really boils down to this...Rathge has a history of making bad estimates while the MPO has a history of making fairly accurate estimates. So who would you expect me to believe this time around? I'm going with something more along the lines of the MPO's numbers.

As far as your example about the Elite Brownstones...you're right, most buyers there are already GF citizens. However, who is going to fill up all of the houses that those people will vacate when they move downtown? There are more and more housing units all of the time in the city and most are occupied. So, if we have more and more occupied housing units, I don't see how our population could not be growing.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering, hasn't the GFAFB gone from like 8000 to less than 2500? Not all of them live/lived on base and this could be a factor.

I was on base about two years ago and was flabergasted, it fely absolutely abandoned.

ben said...

yeah, the GFAFB has really had a down-turn in population, but this mostly occured before the 2000 census

Anonymous said...

You guys need to give Richard a break, he has a model and some data, he drops the data into the model, and out come some population estimates- do you think he fudges the data because he has a vendetta against Grand Forks?

Also, the decreasing household size is the real driver behind population decline in Fargo and Grand Forks.

Anonymous said...

Get over it! Grand Forks is not growing. GF does not pay anything! All we have is services jobs and nothing else. Most young people after they are done with school move to Fargo or the cities.

GrandForksGuy said...

Anonymous, you may have had bad experiences with employment opportunities in GF, but that doesn't equate to a stagnant (or even declining) population. Indeed, in my opinion, employment opportunities are actually broadening and that should encourage more growth and more retention of our current population base.

NanoBison said...

I would always take a look at a "population projection" from the Census Bureau, with some reservations. They are know for notoriously under projecting most of our area. The only one I would really trust is the 10 year census. Otherwise, go with what your local government says. That's probably a better measure since they would have a better idea of what's going on locally.

Anonymous said...

Ok grandforksguy I am a doctor in Fargo. I used to live in Grand Forks and service jobs are you have. I know you love your town with all your heart but you are losing people every year. Mayor Brown can say all he wants about how the town is growing but your losing one half of the town and building out more and more. Go for a ride around the town and you will see all you have is service jobs.

Anonymous said...

Why is this such a hot button issue anyway? Wouldn't you think that if this was true the town would say big deal? Instead you guys get offended by it and go after anyone that says the census bureau is right. Lets face it, since the flood the town is dying off. Is Grand Forks building new places? yes is it attracting people from other places or keeping kids in town? NO!

GrandForksGuy said...

Ok grandforksguy I am a doctor in Fargo

Do you think I wouldn't listen to you if you were "just" a garbage man, Anonymous? Doctors, students, garbage men - no one gets more or less credibility on this blog because of their profession.

GrandForksGuy said...

Wouldn't you think that if this was true the town would say big deal? Instead you guys get offended by it and go after anyone that says the census bureau is right.

This implies that Grand Forks is disputing the population estimates just because they know that the city is losing people, but they don't want to be forced to admit it by the census bureau. Well, many other cities in ND are also disputing the claims...including Fargo, the largest city in the state and one that is clearly not losing people. The cities of Grand Forks and Fargo could just say "big deal", I suppose, but then they would only be going along with dubious population estimates that few (if any) people put much faith in. That would just be silly and the cities would just be cheating themselves.

Anonymous said...

ok Fargo doctor. When you admit that Fargo also lost population, then I will believe that GF is too

NanoBison said...

Just go with what your cities have determined to be an appropriate estimate or figure. When the 2010 census takes place, that is something with a bit more credence than a CB estimate.

p.s. Check out the new Scheels in Fargo. It's AWESOME.

Anonymous said...

A declining population is not necessarily a bad thing. Exponential and concentrated growth is what put the immense stress on our vital resources in the first place. Some of the most highly developed nations have population growth of zero. France is a good example of this. Many nations even employ anti-natal policies to decline the uncontrolled rapid growth they experience. If Grand Forks is declining it should not be taken as a direct insult from the US Census Bureau. Instead, consider, if only for a second, that decline may not be bad.