Final population figures released by the Census Bureau yesterday prompted renewed charges by officials in several cities that the 1990 census had missed thousands of their residents.
"It's a serious, serious undercount," said Susan Weed, Chicago's assistant commissioner for planning.
The Census Bureau reported Chicago's population at 2.78 million, more than 140,000 short of the figure the city submitted last fall in an official challenge. While the final figure represented a gain of about 58,000 over preliminary numbers released in late summer, Weed said the city was not satisfied with the final count, which could mean a loss of millions of federal dollars.
Census Bureau Director Barbara Everitt Bryant has defended the quality of the 1990 census, saying the Census Bureau figures have in most cases proven to be more accurate than those from the cities.
Yesterday's population figures -- for counties, towns and cities in 18 states and the District -- are part of the continuing release of data from the 1990 census, which was conducted last spring. Figures for the remaining states are scheduled for release Thursday and Friday.
In Maryland, population tallies for all counties were greater than the preliminary figures, with the greatest adjustment in Prince George's. Whose official total is 729,268, a gain of 9,800 from the preliminary numbers.
The Census Bureau did not publish any further detail on the District's population, which was reported in December at 606,900.
While thousands of local jurisdictions had challenged the preliminary findings, it was the nation's big cities that were most critical of the 1990 census. Even before the census was conducted, New York City, Chicago, Houston and other communities filed a lawsuit to force the federal government to compensate for residents missed in the headcount by using a statistical formula to arrive at new population figures. New York's numbers are scheduled to be released today.
As a result of that suit, the government agreed to consider such an adjustment, and a decision will be announced by July 15.
In the meantime, complaints from cities grew even louder yesterday, when officials saw that their population counts fell short of the figures they believe are more accurate.
"It's embarrassing for the government to put forward this as a final piece of work," said Allan Stern, a city official in Boston responsible for the census.
While city officials believe Boston's population is more than 600,000, the Census Bureau published a count of 574,283, a gain of 20,571 over the preliminary number.
The statistics hold special signi- ficance in Massachusetts, which lost a congressional seat in the 1990 reapportionment based on population. "We're losing a seat by 12,000 human beings," said Stern. "They're off by more than twice that in this city alone."
In Atlanta, where city officials filed a separate lawsuit in December challenging the census numbers, the city's final figure prompted similar dismay.
The Census Bureau's figure for Atlanta was 394,017, a gain of 9,864 over the preliminary number. "The feeling is those figures are wrong," said Lyn May, a spokeswoman for Mayor Maynard Jackson. She said the city would pursue its lawsuit.
The city believes its population is 437,000. "We stand by those numbers," May said.
The criticism extended to smaller communities, including Meridian, Miss., whose mayor, Jimmy Kemp, had voiced skepticism about the 1990 census in congressional testimony last year.
Meridian's population figure came in at 41,036, a gain of just over 500 from the earlier counts.
"We're extremely disappointed," said William Peacock, a city planner. While he agrees that Meridian may have lost residents since 1980, when its population was 46,577, "I don't think we've lost 5,000 people."