Vienna, April 24 – Moscow may put off the all-Russian census currently scheduled to take place in October 2010 because of budgetary problems brought on by the financial crisis, although the head of the State Statistical Committee said that preparations would continue pending a decision sometime in the next three to four weeks.
If the census is simply postponed, that will create a certain number of difficulties for those who analyze that country and more importantly for those who are responsible for developing social policies in that country. But if it is cut back, the costs could be higher for both because they will have to work with inaccurate or incomplete information.
Rosstat head Vladimir Sokolin told journalists yesterday that he had met with Finance Minister Aleksey Kudrin to discuss whether there will sufficient money in the budget to pay for the upcoming census, now slated to cost 11 billion rubles (320 million US dollars), including eight billion in salaries for the census takers (www.interfax.ru/society/news.asp?id=76119).
“If the finance ministry finds these funds, and they will be reflected in the budget,” Sokolin said, “the census will be preserved; if not, then it won’t be.”
But Sokolin’s remarks are intriguing because the amount of money he said the 2010 census would cost is significantly less than the 17 billion rubles (500 million US dollars) that Irana Zbarskaya, the chief of Rosstat’s department for population and health statistics, had offered earlier (news.hr-nsk.ru/archives/5181).
And that in turn suggests that Rosstat either on its own in an effort to preserve the census or at the direction of some other government agency is already planning to cut back on the amount and detail of information to be gathered, something that could mean the 2010 census will be less complete and less useful than many had hoped.
Unfortunately, there is a post-Soviet precedent for that. In 2002, after census takers contacted approximately two-thirds of the residents of the Russian Federation, Moscow, pleading poverty, came up with data on the remaining third by making use of interior ministry files, something that was doubly problematic.
On the one hand, that tactic meant that the 2002 census did not meet international census norms which require that governments conducting them make a good-faith effort to contact at least 90 percent of the total sample, although in this case, no other country was prepared to challenge what then president Vladimir Putin had done.
On the other, it meant among other things that the numbers the Russian government reported overstated the percentage of ethnic Russians in the population and understated the percentage of non-Russians because as other measurements show the former are declining and the latter increasing in size.
If Rosstat does go ahead with the planned 2010 census but with significantly less funding than the agency had said was necessary to do the job, the likelihood is that Moscow officials will try to take similar shortcuts, a move few will object to given the impact of the economic crisis but one that will deprive those who need it of an accurate enumeration.
And that in turn could set off the kind of debates that censuses have had in other countries, including the United States, with those who benefit from the approach adopted defending the enumeration as entirely legitimate and those who suffer as a result of the strategy used denouncing both that approach and the powers that be standing behind it.