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A U.S. Census taker talks to a community member early this year.

 

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that the country’s population grew to somewhere between roughly 306 million and 313 million over the last decade, acknowledging uncertainty due to rapid shifts in immigration.

The 2000 Census reported the nation’s population to be 281.4 million, up 13.2 percent over the 1990 count.

Census Bureau director Robert Groves says pinpointing a more exact tally was difficult partly due to shifts in immigration figures since 2000.

The newest estimates — based on Census surveys and administrative records such as births, deaths and immigration — come about three weeks before the official 2010 Census numbers are released and raise the possibility that the nation has fewer people than had been estimated.

“This is independent of the Census,” said Groves. “It gives us another measure of the April 1 population.”

Estimates such as those released last Monday are traditionally used as a yardstick to measure how accurate the official Census is.

It’s the first time the agency has put out five wide-ranging estimates — a reflection of the churn in immigration patterns this decade caused by the recession and crackdowns on illegal immigrants.

“Immigration is the key,” says John Long, who headed the Census population division in 2000 and is a private consultant at USA Demography.

The Census is the only population count on which policy decisions are made, including apportionment of House of Representative seats among the 50 states and the distribution of about $400 billion in federal aid annually to state, local and tribal governments.

Texas could gain four seats and Florida two, while Ohio and New York could lose two seats, according to an analysis by the Election Data Services consulting firm.

The middle range last Monday’s demographic analysis, 308.5 million, would be an increase of 8.8 percent from the 2000 census figure.

But Jason Devine, chief of the bureau’s methodology, research and development division, said the information isn’t intended to determine how the nation has changed in the past decade.

Instead, he said, it is intended to be a snapshot of the nation on April 1, 2010.

Historically, the bureau’s estimates of the nation’s racial makeup have been limited to “black” and “non-black.”

But this year, estimates of the Hispanic population was included for people born in 1990 or later.

That’s because most states had begun to use that designation on birth records by 1990, Devine said.

The numbers that really matter — for determining how many Congressional seats each state is allowed, for redistricting and for the distribution of some federal funding — are the 2010 Census numbers, and the first set of that information must be released by Dec. 31.

Groves wouldn’t set a date but said the bureau will meet the deadline.

A more detailed set of older data, based on the bureau’s American Community Survey between 2005 and 2009, will be released soon.