MARSHALL ISLANDS CENSUS SHOCKER: ONLY 50,865 IN RMI

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Out-migration since Compact began is biggest factor in growth decline.

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (December 17, 1999 – Marshall Islands Journal)---The 1999 census conducted in the Marshall Islands shows a "remarkable decline in the national growth rate," which is attributed largely to out-migration of Marshallese since the Compact (of Free Association) began in 1986 and differing methods used for counting in the 1980 and 1988 census, according to the just-released preliminary results of the census that was conducted earlier this summer.

According to the count, there are 50,865 people living in the Marshall Islands -- an increase of 7,485 from the 1988 census -- a figure that the census report said "is way below the expected figure for the year, which is between 55,000 and 60,000 persons."

Because this number suggested the possibility of a serious undercount, census officials investigated the count using a house-to-house verification system in Majuro, Ebeye and Jaluit. This re-check was conducted between August and October.

A total of 1,021 people from the three atolls were not counted, while 13 people were counted more than once when the census was done in June and July, according to the report.

This modest undercount (1,021), however, does not account for the drastic drop in the growth rate since the last census, the report said.

"There are two possible factors that may help explain the remarkable decline in the national growth rate, from 4.2 percent annually in the 1980-1988 period, to 1.5 percent annually in the 1988-1999 period:

The census reported that in a 1997 census of Micronesian migrants in Hawai‘i, 2,024 Marshallese were counted, the report said. "Of this number, 1,839 or 91 percent migrated to Hawai‘i after the RMI implemented its Compact of Free Association with the U.S."

Another count showed 107 Marshallese on Guam -- 98 percent of them post-Compact migrants.

The report said that the RMI Immigration office "noted that the increase in the outflow of migrants was most evident in the last three years, starting in 1996. One major factor for the emigration of Marshallese was the reduction in the work force in the government as well as private sector."

While the report acknowledges that in the early 1980s, "fertility in the RMI was the highest among the Pacific Island countries," it says other factors elevated this rate.

Census officials believe that the 1980 census conducted by the TT administration seriously undercounted the number of Marshall Islanders, inaccurately inflating the actual growth rate between 1980 and 1988.

The report notes in the late 1970s, Marshallese students became eligible for Pell grants and began traveling off island to school in large numbers. As a result, they were not counted in the 1980 census. In addition, there was a large group of Marshallese who worked on Saipan as part of the TT administration, which was disbanded by the mid-1980s. They too, would not have been counted in 1980.

But by the time of the 1988 census, many of those Saipan-Marshallese had returned to the Marshalls, as had students who had been studying abroad. Not counting them in 1980, but counting them 1988 helped elevate the growth rate for the Marshalls.

The report said that it is estimated that as many as 3,800 people were not counted in 1980. If the census were adjusted to include this number, then the average annual growth rate would be about 2.7 percent annually, not the 4.2 percent reported in 1988.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail: journal@ntamar.com  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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