Survey on New Hampshire’s foreign born leaves room for questions

Recently released findings by the U.S. Census Bureau based on its American Community Survey indicate the number of New Hampshire’s foreign-born residents have increased by 18 percent since 2004 and 33 percent since 2000.

Statistics from the estimating branch of the bureau, however, indicate the number of immigrants coming into the state has actually declined from 2,300 in 2000-2001 to 1,800 in 2004-2005. The statistics also show a total immigration since the last census of 11,107 people out of a total population increase of 74,150 – 15 percent.

New Hampshire’s current total population is 1.3 million.

According to New Hampshire demographer Peter Francese, the discrepancies between the numbers given by the two different divisions of the same bureau are primarily due to survey methodology.

“The one thing people have to realize is the American Community Survey is based on a sample and there is a significant amount of sampling error,” said Francese, author and director of Demographic Forecasts for New England Economic Partnership, founder of American Demographics Magazine. “The probability is pretty high that what you’re looking at is sampling variability, especially in a small state like New Hampshire.”

Thomas Duffy of New Hampshire’s Office of Energy and Planning concurs. “The American Community Survey is a sampling,” Duffy said. “The survey is relatively new and includes a great deal of variability.”

The ACS was introduced in 1996 with hopes of providing states with needed up-to-date demographic information between the decennial census.

While the estimating branch of the U.S. Census Bureau bases its findings on the complete decennial census, which measures the entire population, only a sample of the population – 250,000 households monthly on a nationally level – take part in the American Community Survey. Individuals living in group settings like college dormitories, prisons and long-term care facilities are not included.

The sample population surveyed for the ACS changes from year to year whereas the population taking part in the decennial census remains more constant.

Still relatively new, the ACS also continues to be in a state of flux with changes continuing to be made.

“They’re still learning about what questions will deliver accurate data,” said Francese, pointing out the fact that there are some things people are more forthcoming about. “At this point one has to remain skeptical about some of the information.”

Much of the ACS survey’s information is useful and will fall in line with numbers arrived upon by the estimating branch, according to Francese. Other numbers, however, like that of “foreign born” are less reliable. — TRACIE STONE

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