Census official speaks to 71602 ZIP code concerns

Pine Bluff has not lost 12,000 people to White Hall because of the sharing of the 71602 ZIP code, Toni Pitchford of the U.S. Census Bureau said Wednesday in conference call with city officials.

Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth invited Pitchford to speak to members of the Pine Bluff City Council to clarify the difference between a ZIP code population and Census population data.

Ward 4 Alderman Steven Mays, Ward 4 Alderman George Stepps and Ward 1 Alderman Thelma Walker were in attendance and are members of a special committee established by the council on a temporary basis to look into possible problems associated with the shared ZIP code.

Ward 1 Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr. and Ward 3 Alderman Bill Brumett were also present.

“Just so that everyone understands, does the Census Bureau show that Pine Bluff has lost 12,000 people to White Hall?” Hollingsworth said.

“No it has not,” Pitchford said.

“But Pine Bluff has lost 12,000 people to the 71602 ZIP code in White Hall,” Mays said. “I won’t be satisfied until the 71602 ZIP code is adjusted so that it is no longer divided between Pine Bluff and White Hall.”

Pitchford said that Census data is accumulated using municipal boundaries that are precisely determined using GPS technology.

“Our data collection determines exactly which political boundary any given housing unit is located in regardless of which ZIP code they are in,” Pitchford said. “We know that some people who live in Pine Bluff receive mail that says White Hall on it, but it is the actual boundaries of a city that determines where you reside.”

Mays said it appeared to him that the 71602 ZIP code was creating a population overlap between Pine Bluff and White Hall.

“Even if someone thinks they live in White Hall, our geographers check to make sure that is correct using our boundary and geographic data to pinpoint any address,” Pitchford said. “A ZIP code population number is not the same as Census tract numbers.”

Walker said that she had concerns about the 71602 population figure.

“The online 71602 ZIP code information for White Hall says it has 17,000 people,” Walker said. “We need to look into why that is.”

Mays said that he believes the 71602 ZIP code can no longer be shared between the two cities.

“That is just wrong,” Mays said. “The only solution is to change the 71602 ZIP code back to where it is supposed to be. We need to get this fixed before the 2020 Census, otherwise we are going to see White Hall with 30,000 people.”

Pitchford said that federal fund allocations made by the U. S. Congress are determined using Census data and not ZIP code information.

Stepps said that another concern related to the ZIP code is ensuring that tax dollars go to the right municipality.

“The Census population numbers are our tax base,” Stepps said. “I am concerned about businesses from places like Little Rock who come down here to do a job and the person says they live in White Hall when they actually live in Pine Bluff. Now that employee is going to go on what the person says and we lose that tax money to White Hall.”

City finance director Steve Miller confirmed that such a scenario likely does occur.

“The Department of Finance and Administration does have a way to figure it out correctly on its website, but it is true that the system is dependent upon the business actually making use of it,” Miller said.

Pitchford is scheduled to attend ICVR Coffee with the Chiefs on Tuesday, Aug. 5, at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. Coffee with the Chiefs is open to the public.

Rev. Jesse C. Turner, ICVR executive director, said that an invitation has also been sent to the Pine Bluff postmaster.