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OP-ED | 04-02-2023 06:00

Sense and the census

What this census is providing are updated figures on the population of Argentine provinces, which should at least serve to remove any excuse for not making the final reform of federal revenue-sharing stipulated for the year 1996 by the 1994 constitutional reformers.

The Old Testament tells us that Yahweh cursed King David with a plague for holding a census of the population because he was seeking to place a number on what was a single spiritual entity, applying quantitative instead of qualitative yardsticks to the Chosen People. Much has happened on this planet in the three millennia since then and perhaps the percentage of today’s Argentines who have read through the Old Testament rivals the non-binary but something of a curse seems to linger over this century’s census-taking. The 2001 census was held in a country in the full throes of economic meltdown with 58 percent below the poverty line and 21 percent unemployed (despite which there were problems finding enumerators to staff the effort). An exuberantly bicentennial Argentina offered a complete contrast for the 2010 census but could not escape misfortune – ex-President Néstor Kirchner died on that very day (October 27). The census forming part of the current news was scheduled for 2020 but the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown made that completely impossible, delaying it until last May – we are now in the year 2023 with no final figures in sight.

Gifted with a digital sophistication beyond the imagination of the 10 previous censuses since 1869, the 2022 census is also much shorter than its predecessors with barely 40 pages of raw data (excluding the introduction, methodology, etc.) That still offers plenty of numbers but much remains missing, quite apart from the fact that the huge divergences between last year’s figures and those announced this week do not breed confidence – a total population of 47,327,407 then and 46,044,703 now and also a change in the gender mix from 52.83 percent female and 47.05 percent male to 51.76 percent women and 48.22 percent men, thus causing the non-binary to shrink drastically from 0.12 to 0.02 percent.

Some opposition politicians are making a song and dance about the data from La Matanza, where the latest figures do indeed seem to invite suspicions of the 2010 data being inflated in order to bump up federal revenue-sharing and other payments to that ultra-Peronist municipality (now on record as growing from 1,775,816 to 1,837,774 people between 2010 and 2022, way below a nationwide increase of almost 15 percent), but that angle of criticism diverts attention from various questions of greater and more general importance. Even if the rise in Argentina’s population since 2010 has now been curtailed from 7.21 million to under six million, that still requires an explanation, given a visibly falling birth rate, and for that some vital information on age-groups is missing. National statisticians have documented a 34 percent fall in the birth rate between 2014 and 2020 and teen pregnancies have mercifully plunged even more by some 55 percent. So where is that extra population coming from? Is immigration from other Latin American countries (the Venezuelan influx of recent years) growing more than realised? Or is it the death rate falling off even more than the birth rate, making for a more rapidly ageing population and a quicker end to the demographic bonus, factors which pose huge question-marks over an already unsustainable pension system? The missing data are not only numbers but vital elements for the definition of public policies.

What this census is providing are updated figures on the population of Argentine provinces, which should at least serve to remove any excuse for not making the final reform of federal revenue-sharing stipulated for the year 1996 by the 1994 constitutional reformers. Since the Supreme Court’s take on federal revenue-sharing is one of the main reasons for this government’s drive for its impeachment, this week’s latest census data reveal at least one interesting fact – this city’s general population decline over almost seven decades has now been significantly reversed, rising from 2,890,151 to 3,120,612 since 2010. Since that figure is around 6.8 percent of total population, is the Supreme Court’s decision to assign it 2.95 percent of federal revenue-sharing really so outrageous as to merit its purge?

Meanwhile we are still awaiting the final word on the 2022 census – last May we were promised the definite basic results in January with the complete and expanded data in midyear. On the very last day of January last Wednesday the INDEC statistics authorities delivered a new set of provisional data with no word as to when their task would be completed. Hopefully before the next census is due in 2030. 

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