The U.S. Constitution requires that each decade a count—or a census—is taken of the population of the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau, the federal government’s largest statistical agency, collects this data and not only determines population but also produces statistics about race, ethnicity, age, and gender—as well as a host of other data that includes income, housing, occupation, commuting patterns, and more.
By Kevin Struck, UW-Madison, Division of Extension
The primary purpose of the census is to determine how many representatives each state gets in Congress and how to redraw district boundaries. Federal agencies also use census results to indicate where to distribute more than $675 billion in federal funds each year.
In addition, communities rely on census statistics to help plan for a variety of their residents’ needs including new roads, schools, and emergency services. And many businesses use census data to determine where best to open stores, restaurants, hotels, and so on.
The process typically begins in earnest two years prior to the Census when the proposed Census questions are sent to Congress and 46 regional and area offices are opened.
The year before the Census begins, census takers update address lists in person, and the remaining 248 local offices are opened. How many census takers are needed to conduct the Census? In the year 1790, during the very first U.S. Census, approximately 650 U.S. Marshals were employed to conduct the census. Most recently, the 2010 Census employed 635,000 persons.
Advertising on behalf of the 2020 Census will begin to pick up noticeably in January. The Census Bureau needs to raise awareness that a census will soon be occurring and that it is important for every household to respond.
The Bureau also wants to be sure everyone knows that for the first time it will be possible for respondents to fill out the census survey online, by phone, or by mail.
The law requires the Census Bureau to keep your information confidential and use your responses only to produce statistics. Your responses cannot be publicly released in any way that could identify you, nor can your information be shared with immigration enforcement agencies such as ICE, law enforcement agencies such as the FBI or police, or used to determine your eligibility for government benefits.
For more information, go to www.census.gov
(Editor’s note: Based on U.S. Census Bureau’s “The 2020 Census at a Glance.”)