Friday, January 15, 2010
You know how I keep saying I'm going to do a Census post and then I put it off? Well, the day has arrived. This is kind of long, but I hope not too boring.
"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 10 years, in such manner as they shall by Law direct."
-- Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States
The first Census was taken in 1790, it was supervised by then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and was under the supervision of the U.S. Marshals. The final count was 3.9 million, which both Washington and Jefferson suspect was an under count.
You can find a nice decade by decade overview, including the authorizing legislation and enumeration, here.
The questionnaire is 10 questions, each a result of legislation. These questions have to do with age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, relationships within the household and whether you own or rent the dwelling (you can look here to see when the question was enacted and what the purpose is).
This is the first year you will not get a long form from the Census Bureau. The long form has been replaced by the American Community Survey (ACS), which is a monthly sample survey. There are a variety of reasons for this, but one of the more important is that the demographic and economic data is more timely than the decennial census. If you happen to get an ACS questionnaire you are required to answer it (there are penalties, but they are rarely if ever enforced); because it is separate from the census, you have to fill out the census form as well.
Census data is used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives (and thus in the Electoral College). States may gain or lose seats (Ohio is projected to lose a couple of seats with this Census). For more information on apportionment, including a map of projected gains and losses, look here. The data is also used to distribute federal funding for hospitals, schools, roads and bridges (sometimes in Alaska). The data can be used by community leaders, residents and advocates to argue for (or against) funding for projects.
The basic timeline for this year’s Census: In May of last year Census workers fanned out to verify addresses, making sure that 123 Any Avenue is still a single family house that hasn’t burnt to the ground in the last 10 years. In March 2010, the forms will be mailed (or otherwise delivered). April 1 is National Census Day. If you or a member of your household splits time evenly between two houses, wherever you are on April 1 is where you should be counted. Census workers (or enumerators) will visit households which did not send in their form (this is why the Census is so expensive) from April to July. Population information is delivered to the President in December 2010 for reapportionment, and redistricting data is due the states by March of 2011.
My sister, who works in an unemployment agency (and she is very busy for the foreseeable future) said this about applying for and hiring Census workers: “Census workers are hired through the same process any employer would hire someone. Positions (as one might expect), are temporary and local to the area. They hire for clerical and enumerators 18yrs or older & generally with no criminal background. They are also required to take 30min. test that covers reading, math & attention to detail. Additional training is required once they've completed the application process. They also pay a decent starting wage (at least for my clients)for such a mundane job-$12 for clerical & $16.50 for enumerators. So there you have it. The census worker in a nutshell;)”
The sample test she mentions can be found here, along with other application material and background check information.
In the coming months you may find me geeking out over sampling issues, over- and undercounting and other fun minutia, but this is the important stuff so I will spare you for now. The picture is my library's copy of the 1990 Census (with a bit of the 1980 Census). That is the last census to be printed. Its all online now.