The Year that Counts: 2010
Every 10 years a census is conducted to count everyone living in the United States and this is the year.
Why count everyone? There was a compelling reason the founding fathers made the census a constitutional mandate: representation in the United States Congress. Since the first census count was conducted in 1790, most people living in America have told the federal government how many people live in their house, with decade-by-decade additions to the point that the 1960 census asked about washers, dryers and televisions.1
This year, in fact this spring, we will all receive a very short census form, one with just 10 questions on it. Nothing about how many cars we drive or if we have a telephone. Instead, we will be asked some pretty straightforward questions about things that anyone passing our home on a summer day would notice about us.
What’s on the Form?
To make the case for its simplicity, the following provides a question-by-question description with an attempt to explain the reasoning of the questions. An interactive sample of this form is available on the Census Bureau’s 2010 website.
- 1. How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?
Number of people =
One misconception about the census is that everyone gets a census questionnaire. Actually, every household gets a questionnaire and the person who fills it out fills it out for everyone living in that household. A household could be one person, for example an elderly grandmother living alone. She would fill it out indicating just one person. However, another household might be much larger, for example a retired couple whose daughter and two grandchildren live with them. In that case, the response to the question would be five.
- 2. Were there any additional people staying here April 1, 2010 that you did not include in Question 1? Mark all that apply.
- Children, such as newborn babies or foster children
- Relatives, such as adult children, cousins, or in-laws
- Non-relatives, such as roommates or live-in baby sitters
- People staying here temporarily
- No additional people
Here the form asks us to indicate if there are newborn babies or foster children; cousins or in-laws, etc. Why? Because while question one is pretty simple, some folks might over-think it and answer two people because the house they own is in just their two names. For whatever reasons, sometimes people don’t put the actual number of people living in the home, so question 2 is a way to find that out.
- 3. Is this house, apartment, or mobile home Mark ONE box.
- Owned by you or someone in this household with a mortgage or loan?
Include home equity loans.
- Owned by you or someone in this household free and clear (without a mortgage or loan)?
- Occupied without payment of rent?
- Owned by you or someone in this household with a mortgage or loan?
You may think this question is new and in response to the recent housing crisis, but it’s actually been part of the form since 1890. Homeownership rates have long been critical information for monitoring the economic well-being of our country and our communities. Of course, the data collected in 2010 will help us understand much more clearly what the effect of the housing bubble has been all across America.
- 4. What is your telephone number. We may call if we don't understand an answer.
Area Code + Number
This one seems pretty innocuous, but some people might be hesitant to answer. The reason for the telephone number is so that the Census Bureau can contact the household if they don’t understand an answer or if the form was incomplete.
- 5. Please provide information for each person living here. Start with a person living here who owns or rents this house, apartment, or mobile home. If the owner or renter lives somewhere else, start with any adult living here. This will be Person 1.
What is Person 1's name? Print name below.
Two important points can be made about this particular question. First, the person who is filling out the form does so for everyone in the household. Second, they do need to fill in their name and then the names of Person 2, and Person 3, and so on. Why names? Well, this helps to insure that the census doesn’t double count people and it helps the person filling out the form ensure they write everyone in. We do want the census count to be accurate.
- 6. What is Person 1's sex? Mark ONE box.
Again, pretty straightforward—mark male or female. This is one of the oldest questions (it appeared on the very first U.S. census form in 1790).
- 7. What is Person 1's age and what is Person 1's date of birth? Please report babies as age 0 when the child is less than 1 year old.
A series of boxes are presented to fill in age of the person on April 1, 2010. There are three squares available for that, as more and more people are living into three-digit territory nowadays. The other set of boxes is there to fill in the actual month, day and year of birth. This is a way of double-checking the data, especially for those under one year of age—for some reason, parents are reluctant to put in age “0.”
- 8. Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?
- No, not of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin
- Yes, Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano
- Yes, Puerto Rican
- Yes, Cuban
- Yes, another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin
First asked a mere forty years ago, this question attempts to learn about the in-migration of people from Latino countries.
- 9. What is Person 1's race? Mark one or more boxes
*Indicates a space provided to print specific name of race.
- Black, African Am., or Negro
- American Indian or Alaska Native*
- Asian Indian
- Native Hawaiian
- Guamanian or Chamorro
- Other Asian*
- Other Pacific Islander*
- Some other race*
A question about race has been on the census form since the first census in 1790. According to the Census Bureau’s publication Factfinder for the Nation, “the concept of color or race in the censuses has never denoted any scientific definition of biological stock. “White” and “Black” persons have been identified in every decennial census since 1790. American Indians were first enumerated as a separate group in the 1870 census; however, until 1890, those in the Indian Territory or on reservations were not included in the official U.S. population count used for congressional apportionment. Data have been collected on the Chinese population since the 1870 census, and on the Japanese beginning in 1890.” The race question is posed after the question about Hispanic origin because Hispanic or Latino is not considered a race.
However, we have found in recent censuses that people who identify themselves as Hispanic also tend to write in “Hispanic” or another similar term in the race question. Note that since 1960, all questions have been “self-identification,” meaning the person responding to the form determines what race he or she is. Prior to 1960, census takers determined the race of persons in the household being counted.
- 10. Does Person 1 sometimes live or stay somewhere else?
- In college housing
- For child custody
- In the military
- In jail or prison
- At a seasonal or second residence
- In a nursing home
- For another reason
This final question is really a way for the Census Bureau to check accuracy and to insure the person responding didn’t inadvertently count either fewer or more people living in the household. An example might be that a person included as living in the household is actually a college student who lives most of the year on a campus in another city or state. Sometimes, parents think that if their college student is a dependent, they need to count them as living in the household. For census purposes, this is absolutely not the case—only people living in the household much or all of the year should be included on the census form.
But Wait, It’s Actually More than 10 Questions!
If there is more than one person living in the household, the person filling out the form needs to answer questions about them as well. So in reality, while there might only be 10 questions, eight of the 10 apply to all the people living in the household.
- More information about the history of the census is available at www.census.gov/history/www/through_the_decades/.
Carol O. Rogers
Deputy Director and Governor’s Census Liaison, Indiana Business Research Center, Indiana University's Kelley School of Business