Buyers fight over houses for sale, and new condominiums are sprouting like weeds. Nevertheless, the U.S. Census Bureau predicted yesterday that the population of the District will wither over the next 25 years, plummeting from 572,000 residents to just over 433,000 by 2030.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) quickly disputed the projection, calling it "laughably wrong" and "contrary to all of the city's best planning projections," which indicate that the population will grow by 140,000 people over the same period.
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"People who live in this area need only look out their windows to see the significant increase in the city's population," Williams said.
Census demographers conceded that their analysis, based on data from 2001 and earlier, could have missed a dramatic reversal in migration trends away from the nation's capital. But Gregory Spencer, chief of the Census Bureau's population projections branch, noted that the bureau, unlike the mayor, uses strict mathematical models that leave no room for wishful thinking.
"There are many possible policies that could be created that could conceivably change the population and which the mayor could be counting on," Spencer said. "All I'm saying is, according to the best trends we have at the Census Bureau, we don't see any substantial growth."
The new projections for the District are part of a regular census report projecting population growth across the 50 states. The report's authors, Caribert Irazi and Myoung-ouk Kim, took into account trends in fertility, mortality and migration to arrive at their projections, Spencer said.
District officials, by contrast, also look at housing starts, building permits and other measures of construction activity. Using those data, the city projects that its population will grow to 712,000 by 2030, said Mitchell Silver, deputy director of the D.C. Office of Planning.
District officials long have been at odds with the Census Bureau, repeatedly accusing the agency of undercounting the city's population. For instance, in the 1990s, the agency predicted that the District's population would fall to about 523,000 residents by 2000. The 2000 Census, however, counted 572,000 people, a difference of nearly 50,000, Silver said.
In its most recent figures, the Census Bureau estimated that the city lost 20,000 people between 2000 and 2004. D.C. officials, who have set a goal of boosting the population by 100,000 in the next five years, also dispute that decline.
"We have close to 5,000 new housing units -- that's net to the District -- with an average of two people per household. That's 10,000 people right there," Silver said. "There are a lot of indicators to show the population is not declining but is in fact increasing."