United States Census

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Seal of the United States Census Bureau

The Bureau of the Census is part of the United States Department of Commerce.

The United States Census is a decennial census mandated by the United States Constitution.[1] The population is enumerated every 10 years and the results are used to allocate Congressional seats (congressional apportionment), electoral votes, and government program funding.[2] The United States Census Bureau (officially the Bureau of the Census, as defined in Title 13 U.S.C. § 11) is the government agency that is responsible for the United States Census. Some states or local jurisdictions also conduct local censuses.

The census is performed by the United States Census Bureau. The first census after the American Revolution was taken in 1790, under Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson; there have been 22 federal censuses since that time.[2] The current national census was held in 2010 and the next census is scheduled for 2020. For years between the decennial censuses, the Census Bureau issues estimates made using surveys and statistical models, in particular, the American Community Survey.

Title 13 of the United States Code governs how the Census is conducted and how its data is handled. Included among the Title's important features are laws mandating confidentiality of information.[3]

Decennial U.S. Census figures are based on actual counts of persons dwelling in U.S. residential structures. They include citizens, non-citizen legal residents, non-citizen long-term visitors and illegal immigrants. The Census Bureau bases its decision about whom to count on the concept of usual residence. Usual residence, a principle established by the Census Act of 1790, is defined as the place a person lives and sleeps most of the time. The Census Bureau uses special procedures to ensure that those without conventional housing are counted; however, data from these operations are not considered as accurate as data obtained from traditional procedures.[4] The practice of including non-citizens in the official census figures is controversial because the census is used for the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives, and derived from that, of electors to the Electoral College. The Census also employs the practice of hot deck imputation to assign data to housing units where occupation status is unknown. This practice has effects across many areas, but is seen by some as controversial because it may increase representation for reliably Democratic districts. However, the practice was ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Utah v. Evans. Groups like the Prison Policy Initiative assert that the census practice of counting prisoners as residents of prisons, not their pre-incarceration addresses, leads to misleading information about racial demographics and population numbers.[5] Certain American citizens living overseas are specifically excluded from being counted in the census even though they may vote. Only Americans living abroad who are "Federal employees (military and civilian) and their dependents living overseas with them" are counted. "Private U.S. citizens living abroad who are not affiliated with the Federal government (either as employees or their dependents) will not be included in the overseas counts. These overseas counts are used solely for reapportioning seats in the U. S. House of Representatives." [6]


Censuses had been taken prior to the Constitution's ratification; in the early 17th century, a census was taken in Virginia, and people were counted in nearly all of the British colonies that became the United States.

Throughout the years, the country's needs and interests became more complex. This meant that statistics were needed to help people understand what was happening and have a basis for planning. The content of the decennial census changed accordingly. In 1810, the first inquiry on manufactures, quantity and value of products occurred; in 1840, inquiries on fisheries were added; and in 1850, the census included inquiries on social issues, such as taxation, churches, pauperism, and crime. The censuses also spread geographically, to new states and territories added to the Union, as well as to other areas under U.S. sovereignty or jurisdiction. There were so many more inquiries of all kinds in the census of 1880 that almost a full decade was needed to publish all the results. In response to this, the census was mechanized in 1890, with tabulating machines made by Herman Hollerith. This reduced the processing time to two and a half years.[7]

For the first six censuses (1790–1840), enumerators recorded only the names of the heads of household and a general demographic accounting of the remaining members of the household. Beginning in 1850, all members of the household were named on the census. The first slave schedules were also completed in 1850, with the second (and last) in 1860. Censuses of the late 19th century also included agricultural and industrial schedules to gauge the productivity of the nation's economy. Mortality schedules (taken between 1850 and 1880) captured a snapshot of life spans and causes of death throughout the country.

The first nine censuses (1790–1870) were not managed by the Executive branch, but by the Judicial branch. The United States federal court districts assigned U.S. marshals, who hired assistant marshals to conduct the actual enumeration. The census enumerators were typically from the village or neighborhood and often knew the residents. Before enabling self-identification on the censuses, the US Census Bureau relied on local people to have some knowledge of residents. Racial classification was made by the census enumerator in these decades not by the individual.

Num Year Date Taken Population Notes
1 1790 August 2, 1790 3,929,326
2 1800 August 4, 1800 5,308,483
3 1810 August 6, 1810 7,239,881
4 1820 August 7, 1820 9,638,453
5 1830 June 1, 1830 12,866,020
6 1840 June 1, 1840 17,069,453 The census estimated the population of the United States at 17,100,000. The results were tabulated by 28 clerks in the Bureau of the Census.
7 1850 June 1, 1850 23,191,876 The 1850 census was a landmark year in American census-taking. It was the first year in which the census bureau attempted to record every member of every household, including women, children and slaves. Accordingly, the first slave schedules were produced in 1850. Prior to 1850, census records had only recorded the name of the head of the household and tabulated the other household members within given age groups.
8 1860 June 1, 1860 31,443,321 The results were tabulated by 184 clerks in the Bureau of the Census.</br> This was the first census where the American Indians officially were counted, but only those who had 'renounced tribal rules'. The figure for the nation was 40,000.
9 1870 June 1, 1870 39,818,449
10 1880 June 1, 1880 50,189,209 This was the first census that permitted women to be enumerators.
11 1890 June 2, 1890</br> [n 1] 62,947,714 Because it was believed that the frontier region of the United States no longer existed, the tracking of westward migration was not tabulated in the 1890 census.[8] This trend prompted Frederick Jackson Turner to develop his milestone Frontier Thesis.</br></br>

The 1890 census was the first to be compiled on a tabulating machine, developed by Herman Hollerith.[9] The introduction of this technology reduced the time taken to tabulate the census from seven years for the 1880 census to two and a half years for the 1890 census. The total population of 62,622,250 was announced after only six weeks of processing. The public reaction to this tabulation was disbelief, as it was widely believed that the "right answer" was at least 75,000,000.</br> This census is also notable for the fact it is one of only three for which the original data is no longer available. Almost all the population schedules were destroyed following a fire in 1921.

12 1900 June 1, 1900 76,212,168
13 1910 April 15, 1910 92,228,496
14 1920 January 5, 1920 106,021,537 This was the first census that recorded a population exceeding 100 million.
15 1930 April 1, 1930</br> [n 2] 122,775,046 This is the most recent Census for which individual data has been released to the public.
16 1940 April 1, 1940 132,164,569 Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2012.
17 1950 April 1, 1950 150,697,361 Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2022.
18 1960 April 1, 1960 179,323,175 Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2032.
19 1970 April 1, 1970 203,302,031 Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2042.
20 1980 April 1, 1980 226,545,805 Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2052.
21 1990 April 1, 1990 248,709,873 Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2062.
22 2000 April 1, 2000 281,421,906 Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2072.
23 2010 April 1, 2010 308,745,538 For the first time since 1940, the 2010 Census is a short-form-only census, as the decennial long form has been replaced by the American Community Survey.</br>Because of a 72-year rule, this census will be available for public inspection on April 1, 2082.
  1. ^ Taken one day late because June 1 was a Sunday.
  2. ^ In the Alaska Territory, census-taking began on October 1, 1929.

Census regional marketing logo in Minnesota.

Respondent confidentiality Edit

The principal purpose of the census is to divide the house seats by population. In addition, collected data is used in aggregate for statistical purposes.[10] Replies are obtained from individuals and establishments only to enable the compilation of such general statistics. The confidentiality of these replies is very important. By law, no one –  neither the census takers nor any other Census Bureau employee –  is permitted to reveal identifiable information about any person, household, or business. Without such protections, those living illegally in the United States or hiding from the government would be deterred from submitting census data.

Historical FBI use of data Edit

Under the Roosevelt administration the FBI, using primarily census records, compiled (1939–1941) the Custodial Detention Index ("CDI") on citizens, enemy aliens, and foreign nationals, who might be dangerous. The Second War Powers Act of 1941 repealed the legal protection of confidential census data, which was not restored until 1947. This information facilitated the internment of Japanese-Americans, following the Japanese attack on the U.S. at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the internment of Italian- and German-Americans following the United States's entry into World War II.[11][12]

In 1980, four FBI agents went to the Census Bureau's Colorado Springs office with warrants to seize Census documents, but were forced to leave with nothing. Courts upheld that no agency, including the FBI, has access to Census data.[13]

Data analysis Edit

The census records and data specific to individual respondents are not available to the public until 72 years after a given census was taken, but aggregate statistical data derived from the census are released as soon as they are available. The 72-year rule is not law, but a rule posed by Roy V. Peel, Census Bureau Director, in a letter to Wayne C. Grover, Archivist, on August 26, 1952.[14] Every census up to and including 1930 is currently available to the public and can be viewed on microfilm released by the National Archives and Records Administration, the official keeper of archived federal census records. Complete online census records can be accessed for no cost from National Archives facilities and many libraries,[15] and a growing portion of the census is freely available from non-commercial online sources.[16][17][18]

Census microdata for research purposes are available for censuses from 1850 forward through the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), and scanned copies of each of the decennial census questionnaires are available online from many websites. Computerized aggregate data describing the characteristics of small geographic areas for the entire period from 1790 to 2000 are available from the National Historical Geographic Information System.

Regions and divisions Edit

US Census geographical region map

US Census Bureau Population Regions

The bureau recognizes four census regions within the United States and further organizes them into nine divisions. These regions are groupings of states that subdivide the United States for the presentation of data. They should not be construed as necessarily being thus grouped owing to any geographical, historical, or cultural bonds.

US Census Regions
Region 1: Northeast Region 2: Midwest Region 3: South Region 4: West

See also Edit


  1. ^ Constitution of the United States, Article 1, Section 2: "The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct."
  2. ^ a b "Decennial Census". American FactFinder. Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  3. ^ LII Legal Information Institute. "US Code". Cornell University Law School. 
  4. ^ Smith, Annetta; Smith, Denise (2001). U.S Census Bureau Census Special Reports Series CENSR/01-2. US GPO. 
  5. ^ The Problem. Prisoners of the Census (2005-09-26). Retrieved on 2010-03-24.
  6. ^ "Question and Answer Center". US Census Bureau. 
  7. ^ Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray, "Computer a History of the Information Machine - Second Edition", Westview Press, pages 14-19 2004
  8. ^ Porter, Robert; Gannett, Henry; Hunt, William (1895). "Progress of the Nation", in "Report on Population of the United States at the Eleventh Census: 1890, Part 1". Bureau of the Census. pp. xviii-xxxiv. 
  9. ^ Truesdell, Leon E. (1965). The Development of Punch Card Tabulation in the Bureau of the Census: 1890-1940. US GPO. 
  10. ^ "What is the purpose of the Census? What is the data used for?". 
  11. ^ Minkel, JR (2007-03-30). "Confirmed: The U.S. Census Bureau Gave Up Names of Japanese-Americans in WW II". Scientific American. Retrieved 2009-11-02. 
  12. ^ El Nasser, Haya (2007-03-30). "Papers show Census role in WWII camps". USA Today. Retrieved 2009-11-02. 
  13. ^ Boyle, Mary (March 24, 2000). "Springs once tested Census' confidentiality". The Gazette (Colorado Springs). 
  14. ^
  15. ^ National Archives and Records Administration. "How can I search the Census Records?". Retrieved December 13, 2008. 
  16. ^ "Discover your Ancestors". 
  17. ^ Census Project (USGenWeb) - Home Page Welcome. Retrieved on 2010-03-24.
  18. ^ The USGenWeb Census Project. (2000-05-23). Retrieved on 2010-03-24.

Further readingEdit

  • Anderson, Margo J. The American Census: A Social History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0300040148
  • Anderson, Margo J. Encyclopedia of the U.S. Census. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2000. ISBN 1-56802-428-2.
  • Dorman, Robert L., “The Creation and Destruction of the 1890 Federal Census,” American Archivist, 71 (Fall–Winter 2008), 350–83.
  • Kruger, Stephen. "The Decennial Census", 19 Western State Law Review 1 (1981).
  • Lavin, Michael R. "Understanding the Census: A Guide for Marketers, Planners, Grant Writers, and Other Data Users". Kenmore, NY: Epoch Books, 1996. ISBN 0-89774-995-2.

External links Edit

Template:Social surveys

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at United States Census. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.

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