All Things Census


Transcript: Census Bureau Director Robert Groves at Pew Research Center

The transcript of Census Bureau Director Robert Groves’ remarks on the 2010 Census at the Pew Research Center last week is available. It includes several of the slides that he used to illustrate his talk.

Groves appeared at a Jan. 21 forum co-sponsored by the center, the Washington Statistical Society and the Washington chapter of the American Association of Public Opinion Research. His presentation went into detail about the agency’s operations and outreach plans that are intended to produce as complete a count as possible of all U.S. residents. He also spoke about plans to track participation in real time, and to perform a post-census evaluation.

Audio of Groves’ presentation was posted earlier on this site. More material from the event will be posted soon.


How the Population Clock Works

The population clock on the All Things Census page is derived using national-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which produces estimates of the country’s total resident population and the components that are the building blocks of  demographic change.

Those components include births, deaths and net international migration, computed using data from the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics. In December 2009, the Census Bureau estimated there was a birth every eight seconds, a death every 12 seconds and one net new immigrant every 37 seconds.

The population clock updates these changes at regular intervals, although in reality, these events are not evenly spaced. There are fewer births on weekends, for example, than on weekdays.

A more detailed report on the methodology of calculating population estimates is on the U.S. Census Bureau website.


Why the U.S. Census Does Not Ask about Religion

The U.S. Census Bureau has not asked questions about religion since the 1950s, but the federal government did gather some information about religion for about a century before that.

An essay commissioned by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life looks into the history of census questions about religious affiliation. It explores the debate over the propriety, merit and feasibility of including them on government surveys.


Racial Labeling in Survey Questions

Census takers aren’t the only ones who have struggled with racial labels. Over the past seven decades, America’s pollsters have used “colored,” “Negro,” “African American,” “Afro-American” and “black” in questions in national surveys, according to a review of survey questions archived by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut.

Here, for example, is a survey question asked in a May 1948 Gallup Poll:

It has been suggested that white and colored men serve together throughout the U.S. Armed Services—that is, live and work in the same units. Do you think this is a good idea or a poor idea?

Jeffrey Passel recently recounted the fascinating history of the Census Bureau’s efforts to label the races. As Census Director Robert Groves notes in his blog, this year the bureau will allow people to choose from 15 categories for race, including “black, African American, or Negro.”

The history of racial labeling in public opinion polls is briefly but vividly recounted by Lee Sigelman and Steven A. Tuch of George Washington University and Jack K. Martin of Indiana University in their article “What’s In a Name? Preferences for ‘Black’ Versus ‘African American’ among Americans of African Descent” in the  Fall 2005 issue of Public Opinion Quarterly. Read more


Audio: Census Bureau Director Robert Groves at Pew Research Center Event

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves, speaking at the Pew Research Center this week, discussed the operational flow of Census 2010, design features intended to increase participation, the agency’s communications campaign, real-time monitoring of response, and evaluation of the quality of the count.

Census-takers hope to reach 114 million U.S. households, 13 million of which will receive bilingual questionnaires to promote participation. Groves said the agency will use a daily tracking survey and a database with neighborhood-level demographics to target its efforts to achieve a complete count.

He also answered a few questions from the audience at the session co-sponsored by the Washington Statistical Society and the Washington chapter of the American Association of Public Opinion Research.

Listen to the 50-minute audio of Groves’ presentation, which includes an introduction and presentation of survey findings by Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut.


Census 2010 Basic Resources

Here are five key facts about the 2010 Census and links to basic information about it:

  • The Census Bureau expects to count 310 million U.S. residents.
  • The count begins in Alaska on Jan. 25, but most Americans receive their forms in March.
  • The 2010 Census form has 10 questions for the person who fills it out, and seven additional questions for each other person in the household.
  • Census forms are available in six languages (English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian); guides to the questions are available in 59 languages.
  • The census determines how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives, and guides the allocation of more than $400 billion in federal funds each year.

Read more


Census 2010: The Database That Could

As the 2010 Census lifts off, the Census Bureau is drawing attention to a complex database that will be a key element of its campaign to achieve a complete and accurate count of the U.S. population.

The central challenge of the census is to count every resident of the United States, many of whom do not know about the census or could be reluctant to participate. Based on housing, demographic and socioeconomic variables correlated with poor response in previous censuses, the U.S. Census Bureau produced a score for every census tract in the nation that predicts how hard it will be to get an accurate count of its residents. Each census tract has about 4,000 people.

In an appearance at the Pew Research Center today, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said the database has enabled his agency—along with partner groups trying to encourage a complete count—to zero in on neighborhoods where census-promotion efforts are most needed. Starting in late March, as Americans are mailing back their census forms, the bureau will put tract-level data on response rates on its website, he said.

Groves will be in Alaska next week to begin the 2010 Census in a remote native village. Most Americans will not be asked to participate until March, when their forms arrive in the mail with an April 1 due date. The first census results will be released in December.

The database is available on this Census 2010 toolkit page. Groves spoke at “Conducting Census 2010,” a forum co-sponsored by the center, the Washington Statistical Society and the DC-American Association of Public Opinion Research. More about the event will be posted soon.


Updated Data on U.S. Immigrants and Hispanics

The Pew Hispanic Center today updated its statistical profiles of the nation’s 38 million foreign-born residents, and nearly 47 million Hispanics. These profiles use 2008 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the most recent available.

Each profile includes three dozen tables with a wide range of variables, including marital status, English-speaking ability, income and educational attainment.


Race and the Census: The "Negro" Controversy

The topic of racial identification on census forms has a long, fascinating history, which has generated fresh debate as the 2010 Census begins. Why, some ask, does the form include the word “Negro,” along with “black” and “African American,” among the options that Americans can choose for their self-identification? Isn’t that term out of date?

As you can see from the review that follows here, racial terms have come in and out of favor from one decade to the next. There was a similar debate about “Negro” in the 2000 Census, as there have been about other race terms in previous census years.

Before 1960, census-takers filled out the enumeration forms and chose the category for each American they counted. They used a detailed set of instructions from the government, key points of which are listed below. The 1960 Census was a transitional year in which census-takers chose the race for some Americans, and others self-identified from a list of categories.  From 1970 to 1990, most Americans filled out their own forms and checked off a race category for themselves. Starting in 2000, they could choose more than one.

When the census began in 1790, the racial categories for the household population were “free white” persons, other “free persons” by color, and “slaves.” Census-takers did not use standard forms in the early censuses.

For 1850-1880, the codes for enumerators were generally white (W), black (B) and mulatto (M). Beginning in 1850, the data item was labeled “color.” In 1870, Chinese (C) and Indian (I) were added. In 1880, the data item was not labeled; it was “whether this person is…” In 1890, “Japanese,” “quadroon” and “octoroon” were added. Read more


Survey about Census Attitudes

This year the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press is conducting a series of studies about the public’s knowledge and attitudes about the 2010 U.S. Census. The first survey in the series, conducted Jan. 6-10 among 1,504 adults reached on cell phones and landlines, is being released today.

It finds that most Americans think the census is very important (60%) and say they definitely will participate (58%). But enthusiasm for the census is not universal. In particular, younger people, Hispanics and the less well educated are not as familiar with the census and are less likely to participate than other groups. In addition, there are partisan differences in opinions about the value of the census, and in personal willingness to participate.

The survey also probed knowledge of some basic facts about the census. Most Americans know that the census is used to decide states’ representation in Congress (64%) and that the census is not used to locate illegal immigrants so they can be arrested (68%). But just 31% know that participation in the census is required by law.