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The missing people of San Marcos

Houston isn’t the only city that got unexpectedly bad news from the Census.

Just how many people live in San Marcos? Lately, that depends on whom you ask.

For the past three years, city officials have estimated the population to be more than 50,000 people. Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau seemed to agree, offering a guess of 53,205 in 2009.

But official results from the 2010 census tell a different story. They put the city’s population at 44,894 , far below previous estimates and raising the possibility that San Marcos residents were undercounted.

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The Census Bureau reports that San Marcos had a relatively low rate of mail-in participation in the census compared with the rest of Hays County, other nearby cities and the national average of 74 percent.

The data show that 67 percent of San Marcos households filled out and mailed in their census forms, up from 64 percent in 2000. New Braunfels had a 78 percent mail-in rate in 2010. Wimberley had 79 percent.

Different areas of San Marcos, including near downtown and Texas State University, ran as low as 61 percent, the data show.

Census volunteers were directed to follow up when households failed to send in forms. However, Lloyd Potter , the state’s official demographer and director of the Texas State Data Center said, “I think not getting a good return rate certainly increases the possibility of an undercount.”

On Jan. 1, the city released a population estimate of 53,023 people. The Texas State Data Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio estimated San Marcos had 55,678 residents in July 2009 and 56,563 in January 2010. Even the Census Bureau’s yearly American Community Survey offered an estimate of 53,205 in 2009.

Potter said he did not know whether anyone would be held accountable in the event of an undercount.

As it happens, Houston’s participation rate was also 67%, which was also up from 64% in 2000. Houston’s population total is off by at least 100,000 if you project from earlier estimates, but on a percentage basis San Marcos’ count is much farther off – about 18%, compared to about six percent for Houston. I have no idea what happened, but someone needs to figure it out, because either those estimates were badly flawed or the official count missed by a lot; either case is bad. In any event, consider this an extra dollop of evidence for those who favor proceeding with adding two extra Council seats based on Houston reaching 2.1 million in population.

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