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TNSDC Submits Comments on OMB Metropolitan Statistical Area Proposal

Update (7/16/2021):
July 16 Federal Register notice announced the withdrawal of the January proposal to increase the minimum population of Metropolitan Statistical Areas from 50,000 to 100,000. 721 comments opposed the change and 21 favored. The TNSDC submitted comments requesting a deferral of any changes to the current standard.

On January 19, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released committee recommendations related to the Core-based Statistical Area delineated process. The proposal described in the Federal Register notice increases the minimum urban area population for a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) from 50,000 to 100,000.

Urban Areas boundaries based on the 2020 Census will be released in the spring of 2022 and were the subject of a separate Census Bureau Federal Register notice posted on February 19. Changes to this process could result in less populous and more compact urban areas.

This raises concerns that the OMB committee’s recommended changes could have a greater impact than anticipated by potentially affecting a greater number of communities than expected.

Federal Register Notice Comments from the Tennessee State Data Center

The Tennessee State Data Center reviewed the Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Area Standards Review Committee proposal and submitted a response to the Federal Register notice asking that existing core-based statistical area procedures remain in place until the 2020 Census Urbanized Area delineations are complete and the impact OMB’s recommendation can be better evaluated.

Background on Metropolitan Statistical Areas and Process Changes

An MSA includes a central county(ies) as well as outlying counties with a high degree of economic interaction which is measured using commuting data. There are currently 11 Metro areas in the Tennessee and a number of other micropolitan areas which are based on urban areas between 10,000 and 50,000 people.

The Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Area Standards Review Committee proposal increases the urbanized population standard for MSAs to 100,000 people. That would mean the three Tennessee MSAs would become Micropolitan Areas:

  • Cleveland, TN
  • Jackson, TN
  • Morristown, TN

It’s difficult to evaluate the exact impact if the OMB were to accept the committee’s recommendation. While the agency views the core-based boundaries as statistical boundaries, a number of federal government data products, funding-decision and program eligibility are tied to the definitions. No immediate word is available as to how or if any number of federal agencies would shift their programs response to the population basis change and the need for such adaptations by those agencies is not part of the new OMB proposal.

In reviewing and revising these areas, OMB does not take into account or attempt to anticipate any public or private sector nonstatistical uses that may be made of the delineations. These areas are not designed to serve as a general-purpose geographic framework applicable for nonstatistical activities or for use in program funding formulas.

Examples of potentially affected programs include:

In Tennessee, there are also several state statutes that refer to the boundary and the 50,000 person standard that may have to be addressed.

New core-based statistical area delineations based on the 2020 Census data are expected in the fall of 2023.