Learning a lot about the U.S. Census
Reporter in Residence
Hello, Fanlight readers! Have you missed me? I have missed you. I hope you are all staying safe and healthy.
The year 2020 has been quite a year, right? I bet you all have stories to tell. I do, too, and I would like to share my story of being in the Mansion and learning a lot.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced stores, schools, cinemas, and workplaces to close, the Mansion closed too. The staff returned over the summer wearing masks and gloves. Sometimes I couldn’t tell who was who! They carefully cleaned everything and then turned to work on the usual piles of things waiting to be done.
I must confess, I didn’t help. I was lonely, sleeping during the day and jumping on the computer keys when it was dark. One night my tiny toes landed on an article with an interesting question:
“Can I refuse to participate in the Census?”
The answer printed was NO.
This made me very afraid because I had never even heard the word “census.” Then I remembered what a special friend often reminds me: that “It’s OK not to know; but it’s not OK not to find out.” So, I started researching the U.S. Census.
Surprisingly, the census is defined in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, calling for an “enumeration to be made of the populace within every subsequent term of 10 years.” The new Americans would be electing their peers to serve in the House of Representatives, with the number of representatives to be determined by the number of residents in each state, not exceeding one legislator for every 30,000 people.
The ancient Babylonians, Chinese, Egyptians, and Romans all conducted censuses, as did William the Conqueror who, in 1086, inscribed information about England’s landowners into the so-called Domesday Book. Censuses are even mentioned in the Bible.
Why was a census included in the U.S. Constitution? I remembered that the colonists had been ruled by a king who made all the laws for the people. The founding fathers wanted citizens to be involved in governing their new country — “for the good of the people.”
They didn’t want another king. They wanted a democracy! The United States was one of the first modern countries to mandate a census every 10 years, using the population numbers to apportion political power. When its population grows, the state can elect more representatives, and political districts at all levels are drawn based on population data.
But how is the counting done?
The first U.S. Census was conducted in 1790. That was five years before the Stroud Mansion was finished. From 1790–1870, censuses were conducted by federal marshals appointed by the president. The marshals and their deputies would go to every house to count and ask questions about the people residing there — just men, at the time! They then compiled the information to send back to Washington, D.C.
In 1880, specially-hired and trained enumerators took over visiting every household to conduct the census. Congress added questions after our fourth president, James Madison, suggested that census takers could help lawmakers better understand the nation’s people, their activities, and needs.
Since then, the U.S. Census Bureau has been hiring census takers who reflect the diversity of their regions, intended to collect data on every person living in the United States and its territories. Women and children are now counted as well, of course. Are animals counted too, I wonder?
The first census cost $44,000 to conduct. The 2010 census cost about $12.9 billion, and much of the expense comes from residents who don’t fill out their census questionnaires.
Robert Groves, the Census Bureau’s 2010 director stated: “It costs us just 55 cents in a postage-paid envelope when households mail back their forms [and] about $25 per person if we (the 2020 Census takers) have to go out and knock on the doors.”
To help keep expenditures stable for the 2020 count, the census consisted of only nine questions to answer this time, and the bureau allowed residents to respond via the Internet!
I hope you filled out your survey and sent it in by mail or online. By presidential decree, field data collection ended October 15.
Be well and be safe!