United States Census Bureau

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Bureau of the Census
Seal of the United States Census Bureau.svg
United States Census Bureau Wordmark.svg
Agency overview
FormedJuly 1, 1902;116 years ago (1902-07-01)
Preceding agency
  • Temporary census offices
Headquarters Suitland, Maryland, U.S.
Employees4,285 (2018)
Annual budgetUS$1.5 billion (2017)
US$1.5 billion (2018)
US$3.8 billion (est. 2019)
Agency executives
Parent agency Department of Commerce
Website www.census.gov

The United States Census Bureau (USCB; officially the Bureau of the Census, as defined in Title 13 U.S.C.   § 11 ) is a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System, responsible for producing data about the American people and economy. The Census Bureau is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce and its director is appointed by the President of the United States.

Title 13 of the United States Code outlines the role of the United States Census in the United States Code.

The Federal Statistical System of the United States is the decentralized network of federal agencies which produce data about the people, economy, natural resources, and infrastructure of the United States.

Americans Citizens, or natives, of the United States of America

Americans are nationals and citizens of the United States of America. Although nationals and citizens make up the majority of Americans, some dual citizens, expatriates, and permanent residents may also claim American nationality. The United States is home to people of many different ethnic origins. As a result, American culture and law does not equate nationality with race or ethnicity, but with citizenship and permanent allegiance.


The Census Bureau's primary mission is conducting the U.S. Census every ten years, which allocates the seats of the U.S. House of Representatives to the states based on their population. [1] The Bureau's various censuses and surveys help allocate over $400 billion in federal funds every year and it helps states, local communities, and businesses make informed decisions. [2] [3] [4] The information provided by the census informs decisions on where to build and maintain schools, hospitals, transportation infrastructure, and police and fire departments. [4]

United States Census decenial census mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution

The United States Census is a decennial census mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, which states: "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States ... according to their respective Numbers .... 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." Section 2 of the 14th Amendment states: "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed." The United States Census Bureau is responsible for the United States Census. The Bureau of the Census is part of the United States Department of Commerce.

U.S. state constituent political entity of the United States

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside. State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders. Four states use the term commonwealth rather than state in their full official names.

In addition to the decennial census, the Census Bureau continually conducts dozens of other censuses and surveys, including the American Community Survey, the U.S. Economic Census, and the Current Population Survey. [1] Furthermore, economic and foreign trade indicators released by the federal government typically contain data produced by the Census Bureau.

Census Acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population

A census is the procedure of systematically acquiring and recording information about the members of a given population. This term is used mostly in connection with national population and housing censuses; other common censuses include agriculture, business, and traffic censuses. The United Nations defines the essential features of population and housing censuses as "individual enumeration, universality within a defined territory, simultaneity and defined periodicity", and recommends that population censuses be taken at least every 10 years. United Nations recommendations also cover census topics to be collected, official definitions, classifications and other useful information to co-ordinate international practice.

A field of applied statistics of human research surveys, survey methodology studies the sampling of individual units from a population and associated techniques of survey data collection, such as questionnaire construction and methods for improving the number and accuracy of responses to surveys. Survey methodology includes instruments or procedures that ask one or more questions that may or may not be answered.

American Community Survey demographic survey in the United States

The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. It regularly gathers information previously contained only in the long form of the decennial census, such as ancestry, educational attainment, income, language proficiency, migration, disability, employment, and housing characteristics. These data are used by many public-sector, private-sector, and not-for-profit stakeholders to allocate funding, track shifting demographics, plan for emergencies, and learn about local communities. Sent to approximately 295,000 addresses monthly, it is the largest household survey that the Census Bureau administers.

Census headquarters in Suitland, Maryland Census Bureau headquarters, Suitland, Maryland, 2007.jpg
Census headquarters in Suitland, Maryland

Article One of the United States Constitution (section II) directs the population be enumerated at least once every ten years and the resulting counts used to set the number of members from each state in the House of Representatives and, by extension, in the Electoral College. The Census Bureau now conducts a full population count every 10 years in years ending with a zero and uses the term "decennial" to describe the operation. Between censuses, the Census Bureau makes population estimates and projections. [5]

Article One of the United States Constitution Portion of the US Constitution regarding Congress

Article One of the United States Constitution establishes the legislative branch of the federal government, the United States Congress. Under Article One, Congress is a bicameral legislature consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Article One grants Congress various enumerated powers and the ability to pass laws "necessary and proper" to carry out those powers. Article One also establishes the procedures for passing a bill and places various limits on the powers of Congress and the states.

Population All the organisms of a given species that live in the specified region

In biology, a population is all the organisms of the same group or species, which live in a particular geographical area, and have the capability of interbreeding. The area of a sexual population is the area where inter-breeding is potentially possible between any pair within the area, and where the probability of interbreeding is greater than the probability of cross-breeding with individuals from other areas.

United States congressional apportionment How 435 seats are distributed to 50 states

United States congressional apportionment is the process by which seats in the United States House of Representatives are distributed among the 50 states according to the most recent decennial census mandated by the United States Constitution. Each state is apportioned a number of seats which approximately corresponds to its share of the aggregate population of the 50 states. However, every state is constitutionally guaranteed at least one seat.

In addition, Census data directly affects how more than $400 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated to communities for neighborhood improvements, public health, education, transportation and more. [6] The Census Bureau is mandated with fulfilling these obligations: the collecting of statistics about the nation, its people, and economy. The Census Bureau's legal authority is codified in Title 13 of the United States Code.

Public health preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through organized efforts and informed choices of society and individuals

Public health has been defined as "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting human health through organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals". Analyzing the health of a population and the threats it faces is the basis for public health. The public can be as small as a handful of people or as large as a village or an entire city; in the case of a pandemic it may encompass several continents. The concept of health takes into account physical, psychological and social well-being. As such, according to the World Health Organization, it is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Rational-legal authority form of leadership in which the authority of an organization or a ruling regime is largely tied to legal rationality, legal legitimacy and bureaucracy

Rational-legal authority is a form of leadership in which the authority of an organization or a ruling regime is largely tied to legal rationality, legal legitimacy and bureaucracy. The majority of the modern states of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries are rational-legal authorities, according to those who use this form of classification.

The Census Bureau also conducts surveys on behalf of various federal government and local government agencies on topics such as employment, crime, health, consumer expenditures, and housing. Within the bureau, these are known as "demographic surveys" and are conducted perpetually between and during decennial (10-year) population counts. The Census Bureau also conducts economic surveys of manufacturing, retail, service, and other establishments and of domestic governments.

Federal government of the United States National government of the United States

The federal government of the United States is the national government of the United States, a federal republic in North America, composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and several island possessions. The federal government is composed of three distinct branches: legislative, executive, and judicial, whose powers are vested by the U.S. Constitution in the Congress, the president, and the federal courts, respectively. The powers and duties of these branches are further defined by acts of congress, including the creation of executive departments and courts inferior to the Supreme Court.

A local government is a form of public administration which, in a majority of contexts, exists as the lowest tier of administration within a given state. The term is used to contrast with offices at state level, which are referred to as the central government, national government, or federal government and also to supranational government which deals with governing institutions between states. Local governments generally act within powers delegated to them by legislation or directives of the higher level of government. In federal states, local government generally comprises the third tier of government, whereas in unitary states, local government usually occupies the second or third tier of government, often with greater powers than higher-level administrative divisions.

Between 1790 and 1840, the census was taken by marshals of the judicial districts. [7] The Census Act of 1840 established a central office [8] which became known as the Census Office. Several acts followed that revised and authorized new censuses, typically at the 10-year intervals. In 1902, the temporary Census Office was moved under the Department of Interior, and in 1903 it was renamed the Census Bureau under the new Department of Commerce and Labor. The department was intended to consolidate overlapping statistical agencies, but Census Bureau officials were hindered by their subordinate role in the department. [9]

An act in 1920 changed the date and authorized manufacturing censuses every two years and agriculture censuses every 10 years. [10] In 1929, a bill was passed mandating the House of Representatives be reapportioned based on the results of the 1930 Census. [10] In 1954, various acts were codified into Title 13 of the US Code. [11]

By law, the Census Bureau must count everyone and submit state population totals to the U.S. President by December 31 of any year ending in a zero. States within the Union receive the results in the spring of the following year.

Data collection

U.S. Census Bureau Regions and Divisions Census Regions and Division of the United States.svg
U.S. Census Bureau Regions and Divisions

Census regions and divisions

The United States Census Bureau defines four statistical regions, with nine divisions. [12] The Census Bureau regions are "widely used...for data collection and analysis". [13] The Census Bureau definition is pervasive. [14] [15] [16]

Regional divisions used by the United States Census Bureau: [17]

Uses of census data

Many federal, state, local and tribal governments use census data to:

Data stewardship

The United States Census Bureau is committed to confidentiality, and guarantees non-disclosure of any addresses or personal information related to individuals or establishments. Title 13 of the U.S. Code establishes penalties for the disclosure of this information. All Census employees must sign an affidavit of non-disclosure prior to employment.

The Bureau cannot share responses, addresses or personal information with anyone including United States or foreign government and law enforcement agencies such as the IRS or the FBI or Interpol. "Providing quality data, for public good—while respecting individual privacy and, at the same time, protecting confidentiality—is the Census Bureau's core responsibility", "Keeping the public's trust is critical to the Census's ability to carry out the mission as the leading source of quality data about the Nation's people and economy." [18] Only after 72 years does the information collected become available to other agencies or the general public. [19]

Despite these guarantees of confidentiality, the Census Bureau has some history of disclosures to other government agencies. In 1918, the Census Bureau released individual information regarding several hundred young men to the Justice Department and Selective Service system for the purpose of prosecutions for draft evasion. [20] [21] During World War II, the United States Census Bureau assisted the government's Japanese American internment efforts by providing confidential neighborhood information on Japanese-Americans. The Bureau's role was denied for decades but was finally proven in 2007. [22] [23]

United States census data are valuable for the country's political parties; Democrats and Republicans are highly interested in knowing accurate number of persons in their respective districts. [24] These insights are often linked to financial and economic strategies that are central to federal, state and city investments for locations of particular populations. [25] Such apportionments are designed to distribute political power across neutral spatial allocations; however, "because so much is at stake, the census also runs the risk of being politicized." [26]

Such political tensions highlight the complexity of identity and classification; some argue that unclear results from the population data "is due to distortions brought about by political pressures." [27] One frequently used example includes ambiguous ethnic counts, which often involves underenumeration and/or undercounting of minority populations. [27] Ideas about race, ethnicity and identity have also evolved in the United States, and such changes warrant examination of how these shifts have impacted the accuracy of census data over time. [28]

The United States Census Bureau began pursuing technological innovations to improve the precision of its census data collection in the 1980s. Robert W. Marx, the Chief of the Geography Division of the USCB teamed up with the US Geological Survey and oversaw the creation of the Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER) database system. [29] Census officials were able to evaluate more sophisticated and detailed results that the TIGER system produced; furthermore, TIGER data are also available to the public. And while the TIGER system does not directly amass demographic data, as a geographic information system (GIS), it can be used to merge demographics to conduct more accurate geospatial and mapping analysis. [30]

The Census Bureau distributes data it collects via censuses and surveys on its American FactFinder website. [31]

Ongoing surveys

A survey is a method of collecting and analyzing social, economic, and geographic data. It provides information about the conditions of the United States, states, and counties. Throughout the decade between censuses, the bureau conducts surveys to produce a general view and comprehensive study of the United States' social and economic conditions.

Staff from the Current Surveys Program conduct over 130 ongoing and special surveys about people and their characteristics. [32] A network of professional field representatives gathers information from a sample of households, responding to questions about employment, consumer expenditures, health, housing, and other topics. Surveys conducted between decades:

Other surveys conducted

The Census Bureau collects information in many other surveys and provides the data to the survey sponsor for release. These sponsors include:

Organizational structure

U.S. Census Bureau Regional Office Boundaries New Regional Offices.png
U.S. Census Bureau Regional Office Boundaries

Since 1903, the official census-taking agency of the United States government has been the Bureau of the Census. The Census Bureau is headed by a Director, assisted by a Deputy Director and an Executive Staff composed of the associate directors.

The Census Bureau has had headquarters in Suitland, Maryland, since 1942. A new headquarters complex was completed in 2007 and supports over 4,000 employees. [43] The Bureau operates regional offices in 6 cities [44] : New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, and Los Angeles. The National Processing Center is in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Additional temporary processing facilities facilitate the decennial census, which employs more than a million people. The cost of the 2000 Census was $4.5 billion. During the years just prior to the decennial census, parallel census offices, known as "Regional Census Centers" are opened in the field office cities. The decennial operations are carried out from these facilities. The Regional Census Centers oversee the openings and closings of smaller "Area Census Offices" within their collection jurisdictions. The estimated cost of the 2010 Census is $14.7 billion.

On January 1, 2013, the Census Bureau was to consolidate its 12 regional offices into 6. Increasing costs of data collection, changes in survey management tools such as laptops and the increasing use of multi-modal surveys (i.e. internet, telephone, and in-person) has led the Census Bureau to consolidate. [45] The remaining regional offices will be in: New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, and Los Angeles. [46]

The Census Bureau also runs the Census Information Center cooperative program that involves 58 "national, regional, and local non-profit organizations". The CIC program aims to represent the interests of underserved communities. [47]

Computer equipment

A card puncher, part of the tabulation system used to compile the thousands of facts gathered by the Bureau (circa 1940). Holes are punched in the card according to a prearranged code transferring the facts from the census questionnaire into statistics. This is a card puncher, an integral part of the tabulation system used by the United States Census Bureau to compile... - NARA - 513295.tif
A card puncher, part of the tabulation system used to compile the thousands of facts gathered by the Bureau (circa 1940). Holes are punched in the card according to a prearranged code transferring the facts from the census questionnaire into statistics.

The 1890 census was the first to use the electric tabulating machines invented by Herman Hollerith. [48] [49] For 1890–1940 details, see Truesdell, Leon E. (1965). The Development of Punch Card Tabulation in the Bureau of the Census, 1890-1940: With outlines of actual tabulation programs. US GPO. In 1946, knowing of the Bureau's funding of Hollerith and, later, Powers, John Mauchly approached the Bureau about early funding for UNIVAC development. [50] A UNIVAC I computer was accepted by the Bureau in 1951. [51]

Handheld computers (HHC)

Historically, the census information was gathered by census takers going door-to-door collecting information in a ledger. Beginning in 1970 information was gathered via mailed forms. To reduce paper usage, reduce payroll expense and acquire the most comprehensive list of addresses ever compiled, 500,000 handheld computers (HHCs) (specifically designed, single purpose devices) were used for the first time in 2009 during the address canvassing portion of the 2010 Decennial Census Project. Projected savings were estimated to be over $1 billion. [52] [53] [54]

Security precautions

The HHC was manufactured by Harris Corporation, an established Department of Defense contractor, via a controversial [55] [56] contract with the Department of Commerce. Secured access via a fingerprint swipe guaranteed only the verified user could access the unit. A GPS capacity was integral to the daily address management and the transfer of gathered information. Of major importance was the security and integrity of the populace's private information.

Success and failure

Enumerators (information gatherers) that had operational problems with the device understandably made negative reports. During the 2009 Senate confirmation hearings for Robert Groves, President Obama's Census Director appointee, there was much mention of contracting problems but very little criticism of the units. [55] In rural areas, the sparsity of cell phone towers caused problems with data transmission to and from the HHC. Since the units were updated nightly with important changes and reprogramming, operator implementation of proper procedure was imperative. Dramatic dysfunction and delays occurred if the units were not put into sleep mode overnight.

Notable alumni

See also

Related Research Articles

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Suffolk County, Massachusetts County in the United States

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Tuolumne County, California County in California, United States

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Yakutat, Alaska Home Rule Borough in Alaska, United States

The City and Borough of Yakutat is a borough in the U.S. state of Alaska and was the name of a former city within it. The name is Tlingit, Yaakwdáat but it originally derives from an Eyak name diyaʼqudaʼt and was influenced by the Tlingit word yaakw. The borough covers an area about six times the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island, making it one of the largest counties in the United States. As of the 2010 census, the population was 662, down from 680 in 2000.

2000 United States Census 22nd determined the resident population of the United States on April 1, 2000

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Portland metropolitan area Metropolitan area in the United States

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1890 United States Census National census

The Eleventh United States Census was taken beginning June 2, 1890. It determined the resident population of the United States to be 62,979,766—an increase of 25.5 percent over the 50,189,209 persons enumerated during the 1880 census. The data was tabulated by machine for the first time. The data reported that the distribution of the population had resulted in the disappearance of the American frontier. Most of the 1890 census materials were destroyed in a 1921 fire and fragments of the US census population schedule exist only for the states of Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas, and the District of Columbia.

1980 United States Census National census

The Twentieth United States Census, conducted by the Census Bureau, determined the resident population of the United States to be 226,545,805, an increase of 11.4 percent over the 203,184,772 persons enumerated during the 1970 Census. It was the first census in which a state – California – recorded a population of 20 million people, as well as the first in which all states recorded populations of over 400,000.

1880 United States Census 10th U.S. national census

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1870 United States Census Ninth U.S. national census; first to provide detailed demographic info on African Americans

The United States Census of 1870 was the ninth United States Census. It was conducted by the Census Bureau from June 1,1870 to August 23, 1871. The 1870 Census was the first census to provide detailed information on the African-American population, only five years after the culmination of the Civil War when slaves were granted freedom. The total population was 38,925,598 with a resident of 38,558,371 individuals, a 22.62% increase from 1860. The 1870 Census' population estimate was controversial, as many believed it underestimated the true population numbers, especially in New York and Pennsylvania.

1900 United States Census National census

The Twelfth United States Census, conducted by the Census Office on June 1, 1900, determined the resident population of the United States to be 76,212,168, an increase of 21.0 percent over the 62,979,766 persons enumerated during the 1890 Census.

1940 United States Census National census

The Sixteenth United States Census, conducted by the Census Bureau, determined the resident population of the United States to be 132,164,569, an increase of 7.3 percent over the 1930 population of 123,202,624 people. The census date of record was April 1, 1940. A number of new questions were asked including where people were 5 years before, highest educational grade achieved, and information about wages. This census introduced sampling techniques; one in 20 people were asked additional questions on the census form. Other innovations included a field test of the census in 1939. This was the first census in which every state (48) had a population greater than 100,000.

1950 United States Census National census

The Seventeenth United States Census, conducted by the Census Bureau, determined the resident population of the United States to be 150,697,361, an increase of 14.5 percent over the 131,669,275 persons enumerated during the 1940 Census. This was the first census in which:

1960 United States Census

The Eighteenth United States Census, conducted by the Census Bureau, determined the resident population of the United States to be 179,323,175, an increase of 18.5 percent over the 151,325,798 persons enumerated during the 1950 Census. This was the first census in which all states recorded a population of over 200,000.

The United States Economic Census is the U.S. federal government's official five-year measure of American business and the economy. It is conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, and response is required by law. Forms go out to nearly 4 million businesses, including large, medium and small companies representing all U.S. locations and industries. Respondents are asked to provide a range of operational and performance data for their companies. Trade associations, chambers of commerce, and businesses use information from the economic census for economic development, business decisions, and strategic planning purposes. The next Economic Census will be conducted for the year ending December 2017.


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72-year rule