C is for Census

As of 01 August 2009, the world had 6,774,705,647 people, give or take. About 307 million of them resided in the United States. That info came from the International Data Base, part of the U.S. Census Bureau, which in turn is housed in the US Department of Commerce. And you thought it only dealt with domestic population statistics.

I was an enumerator for the 1990 US Census. An enumerator is the person who comes to your house in the US when you fail to fill out the form that you have been mailed. (People would save taxpayer dollars by filling and mailing the form themselves.) I did this job from late April to mid-August. Lots of employees dropped out, but since it was my primary source of income – and taking another job was impractical, since I was accepted to go to library school in September – it was an ideal position for me. I even made it into a story that was printed in the Schenectady (NY) Gazette in June of that year, though I cannot, for the life of me, find it right now.

The Census, of course, is mandated in the Constitution: “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,” it says in Article I, section 2.

1930 Census taker, Rev. smith, enumerates a Navajo tribe

The questions asked in the Census naturally have evolved over the years. Many of them can be seen here. My personal “favorite” Census has to be the one from 1890, when they asked questions such as:
4. Whether white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian
23. Whether defective in mind, sight, hearing, or speech, or whether crippled, maimed, or deformed, with name of defect.
1890 was a technological breakthrough as well.

Census goes high tech: 1960.

1960 marked the first time people could self-select their race, 1970 featured the introduction of Hispanic ethnicity and 2000 was the first Census where one could pick more than one race.

2000 was also the last year of the long form which asked about income, education, transportation and other topics to one in six households, including mine in 2000. Data users such as local governments tired of waiting 10 years for new information prompted Census to replace the long form by the American Community Survey, which will provide annual statistics; I respond to an article about it here. The ACS has generated some controversy of being too intrusive, in part because Census has not promoted it, figuring it would affect only a small portion of people each month.

I could write about Census forever. I haven’t even touched on the Economic Census, that takes place every five years, or some of the other activities of the Bureau. And, of course, the 2010 Census, with fewer than a dozen questions per householder comes out next year. But that’s enough for now, except to ask the ABC Wednesday people stopping by briefly to describe the censuses in their countries. That’s enough for now.