Encyclopedia of the U.S. Census

Encyclopedia of the U.S. Census

Encyclopedias

Edited by: Margo J. Anderson, Constance F. Citro & Joseph J. Salvo

Abstract

The Encyclopedia of the U.S. Census, Second Edition updates and expands a critically acclaimed resource to the history, politics, content, procedures, and uses of the decennial census of the American population.

This edition highlights changes in the Census Bureau’s data collection and dissemination practices for the 2010 enumeration, including the use of a short-form questionnaire for the actual population count, and the release in late 2010 of the American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year data set based on rolling samples of the U.S. population and gathered using the long-form questionnaire. The second edition also comprehensively covers the fallout from the 2000 census and recent issues affecting the administration of the 2010 count.

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Entries A-Z
  • Front Matter
    • A
    • B
    • C
    • D
    • E
    • F
    • G
    • H
    • I
    • J
    • K
    • L
    • M
    • N
    • O
    • P
    • Q
    • R
    • S
    • T
    • U
    • V
    • W
    • X
    • Y
    • Z

    • Copyright

      View Copyright Page

      About the Editors

      Margo J. Anderson is professor of history & urban studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She specializes in American social, urban, and women's history and has research interests in urban history, the history of the social sciences, and the development of statistical data systems, particularly the census. She is the author of The American Census: A Social History (1988) and coauthor, with Stephen E. Fienberg, of Who Counts? The Politics of Census-Taking in Contemporary America (revised edition, 2001). Most recently she coedited, with Victor Greene, Perspectives on Milwaukee's Past (2009). She served as president of the Social Science History Association in 2006, is a fellow of the American Statistical Association, and has served as chair of the History Department and of the Executive Committee of the Faculty at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She holds MA and PhD degrees in history from Rutgers University.

      Constance F. Citro is director of the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) at the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council, an independent nonprofit organization that advises the nation in accordance with its 1863 congressional charter. Prior to becoming director in 2004, she was a senior program officer with CNSTAT for 20 years and, before that, an American Statistical Association/National Science Foundation research fellow at the Bureau of the Census, a vice president of Mathematica Policy Research Inc., and a vice president of Data Use and Access Laboratories (DUALabs). For CNSTAT, she served as study director for numerous panels, including the Panel on Estimates of Poverty for Small Geographic Areas, the Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance, the Panel to Evaluate the Survey of Income and Program Participation, and the Panel on Decennial Census Methodology. Her research has focused on the quality and accessibility of large, complex microdata files and analysis related to income and poverty measurement. She is a fellow of the American Statistical Association, an elected member of the International Statistical Institute, and a past president of the Association of Public Data Users. She received MA and PhD degrees in political science from Yale University.

      Joseph J. Salvo is director of the Population Division at the New York City Department of City Planning. He began his career as a demographer/statistician at the U.S. Bureau of the Census. He is a former president of the Association of Public Data Users; is on the Board of Trustees of the Center for Migration Studies; and has been a member of the Commerce Secretary's 2000 Census Advisory Committee, the Census Bureau Scientific Advisory Committee, and the Population Association of America's Committee on Population Statistics. Salvo has served on several National Research Council panels, including the Panel on Future Census Methods, Panel on the Functionality and Usability of the American Community Survey, and Panel on Group Quarters in the American Community Survey; he also chaired a special Working Group on the 2000 Census Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program. His recent research includes various studies on the evaluation and use of the American Community Survey and the demography of immigration. He is a recipient of the Sloan Public Service Award from the Fund for the City of New York and is a fellow of the American Statistical Association. He holds MA and PhD degrees in sociology from Fordham University.

      Contributors to the Second Edition

      Affiliations listed in italics. The articles are the personal work of the author(s); are copyrighted by CQ Press; and do not constitute official or authoritative documents by an author's agency, company, or educational institution.

      ADAMS, MARGARET O'NEILL National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

      ANDERSON, ALBERT F. Public Data Queries Inc.

      AUSTIN, ERIK W. ICPSR, University of Michigan

      Archival access to the census

      BAXTER, PAM M. Cornell University

      BENNETT, CLAUDETTE U.S. Census Bureau

      BISHOP, DEIRDRE DALPIAZ U.S. Census Bureau

      BOGGESS, SCOTT U.S. Census Bureau

      American Community Survey: data products

      BOWIE, CHET NORC at the University of Chicago

      American Community Survey: questionnaire content

      BRYANT, BARBARA EVERITT University of Michigan (retired)

      CHRISTOPHER, ED J. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration

      COHEN, MICHAEL L. National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council

      COHEN, PATRICIA CLINE University of California, Santa Barbara

      COHN, D'VERA Pew Research Center

      CORK, DANIEL L. National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council

      CZAJKA, JOHN L. Mathematica Policy Research

      DEVINE, TIMOTHY J. U.S. Census Bureau

      DIENSTFREY, STEPHEN J. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (retired)

      EDMONSTON, BARRY University of Victoria

      ELHAMI, SHOREH Delaware County (Ohio) Auditor's GIS Office

      ERICKSEN, EUGENE P. Temple University

      FIENBERG, STEPHEN E. Carnegie Mellon University

      FORSTALL, RICHARD L. U.S. Census Bureau (retired)

      GAGE, LINDA California Department of Finance

      GATES, GERALD W. U.S. Census Bureau (retired)

      GONA, DEBORAH A. Gona & Associates

      GRANDA, PETER A. ICPSR, University of Michigan

      GRIFFIN, DEBORAH H. U.S. Census Bureau

      American Community Survey: methodology

      GROVES, ROBERT M. U.S. Census Bureau

      HABERMANN, HERMANN formerly U.S. Census Bureau and United Nations Statistics Division

      HARDCASTLE, JEFF University of Nevada, Reno

      Enumerating: rural areas

      HARRIS-KOJETIN, BRIAN Office of Management and Budget

      HODGES, KEN Nielsen

      HOGAN, HOWARD U.S. Census Bureau

      JACOBSEN, LINDA A. Population Reference Bureau

      American Community Survey: data products

      KALTON, GRAHAM Westat

      American Community Survey: using multi-year estimates

      KOMINSKI, ROBERT A. U.S. Census Bureau

      American Community Survey: implementation from 2005

      LAMACCHIA, ROBERT A. U.S. Census Bureau (retired)

      LAVIN, MICHAEL R. State University of New York at Buffalo

      LEVIN, MICHAEL J. Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies

      LOBO, ARUN PETER New York City Department of City Planning

      LOVE, SUSAN P. Consultant

      American Community Survey: methodology

      MAURY, WILLIAM M. U.S. Census Bureau

      McCULLY, CATHY U.S. Census Bureau

      McDERMOTT, MONICA University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

      White or European-origin population

      McMILLEN, DAVID National Archives and Records Administration

      MESSER, CHRIS U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service

      MULRY, MARY H. U.S. Census Bureau

      MURAKAMI, ELAINE U.S Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration

      MURDOCK, STEVE H. Rice University

      NAYMARK, JOAN GENTILI Target Corporation

      NEIDERT, LISA University of Michigan

      PEMBERTON, DAVID M. U.S. Census Bureau

      POWERS, MARY G. Fordham University

      PREWITT, KENNETH Columbia University

      RALEY, R. KELLY University of Texas at Austin

      ROBINSON, J. GREGORY U.S. Census Bureau

      ROTHWELL, CHARLES J. National Center for Health Statistics

      ROWE, JUDITH S. Princeton University (retired)

      RUGGLES, STEVEN University of Minnesota

      SALVO, JOSEPH J. New York City Department of City Planning

      American Community Survey: implementation from 2005

      American Community Survey: introduction

      SCARDAMALIA, ROBERT RLS Demographics, Inc.

      SCHECHTER, SUSAN NORC at the University of Chicago

      American Community Survey: questionnaire content

      SNIPP, C. MATTHEW Stanford University

      SPERLING, JONATHAN U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

      STOREY, TIM National Conference of State Legislatures

      THOMPSON, JOHN H. NORC at the University of Chicago

      VELKOFF, VICTORIA A. U.S. Census Bureau

      WAITE, PRESTON JAY U.S. Census Bureau (retired)

      American Community Survey: development to 2004

      WEINBERG, DANIEL H. U.S. Census Bureau

      WEST, KIRSTEN K. U.S. Census Bureau

      ZEISSET, PAUL T. U.S. Census Bureau (retired)

      Contributors to the First Edition

      ALEXANDER, CHARLES (DECEASED)

      American Community Survey

      ALLEN, RICH

      BAILAR, BARBARA A.

      DOYLE, PAT (DECEASED)

      GOLDFIELD, EDWIN D. (DECEASED)

      HARSHBARGER, DOROTHY S.

      HEELEN, J. PATRICK

      HIRSCHFELD, DONALD

      JENKINS, ROBERT M.

      KELLER, JAY K.

      LAROCHE, BENOIT

      LONG, LARRY

      Geography: distribution of the population

      McCLURE, PAUL

      REEDER, FRANKLIN S.

      Statistical policy and oversight

      RICHE, MARTHA FARNSWORTH

      SIEGEL, PAUL

      Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE)

      SMITH, DANIEL SCOTT (DECEASED)

      SPAR, EDWARD J.

      STUART, JOHN M.

      VOSS, PAUL R.

      WRIGHT, TOMMY

      Sampling for follow-up of nonresponding households

      Acknowledgments

      Many people contributed to the success of this revised and updated encyclopedia. More than ninety distinguished editors and contributors appear as authors or revisers of entries for this edition. In addition, many others made the success of the volume possible, including our editors at CQ Press. Doug Goldenberg-Hart conceived of a volume that would update and expand the 2000 edition. Joan Gossett and Elizabeth Kline managed the final production of the volume and the myriad details of design and composition that result in an elegant book. Copy editors Janine Stanley-Dunham and Paula L. Fleming produced the professional text. Naylor Design produced our new cover design; intern Margaret Palmer helped with file formatting. Throughout, John Martino worked tirelessly with the editorial board to make the vision a reality and provided the administrative support necessary for a large project with many writers.

      The project could not have been accomplished without the help and support of officials and experts at the U.S. Census Bureau. Several current and former bureau staffers wrote for the encyclopedia, and many others provided reference support and good words for the project. Particular thanks for the second edition go to Thomas Mesenbourg, Laura Schebler, Victor Romero, and Michael Morgan and, from the first edition, Carolee Bush, Susan Miskura, Jorge del Pinal, Roderick Harrison, David Pemberton, Paula Schneider, and Stephanie Shipp. Desmond Barlow of AP Images went the extra mile to identify the two images from the previous edition.

      Acknowledgments

      Many people contributed to the success of this revised and updated encyclopedia. More than ninety distinguished editors and contributors appear as authors or revisers of entries for this edition. In addition, many others made the success of the volume possible, including our editors at CQ Press. Doug Goldenberg-Hart conceived of a volume that would update and expand the 2000 edition. Joan Gossett and Elizabeth Kline managed the final production of the volume and the myriad details of design and composition that result in an elegant book. Copy editors Janine Stanley-Dunham and Paula L. Fleming produced the professional text. Naylor Design produced our new cover design; intern Margaret Palmer helped with file formatting. Throughout, John Martino worked tirelessly with the editorial board to make the vision a reality and provided the administrative support necessary for a large project with many writers.

      The project could not have been accomplished without the help and support of officials and experts at the U.S. Census Bureau. Several current and former bureau staffers wrote for the encyclopedia, and many others provided reference support and good words for the project. Particular thanks for the second edition go to Thomas Mesenbourg, Laura Schebler, Victor Romero, and Michael Morgan and, from the first edition, Carolee Bush, Susan Miskura, Jorge del Pinal, Roderick Harrison, David Pemberton, Paula Schneider, and Stephanie Shipp. Desmond Barlow of AP Images went the extra mile to identify the two images from the previous edition.

      Introduction

      The first edition of the Encyclopedia of the U.S. Census (published in 2000) provided for the first time a comprehensive, one-volume work that offered ready reference information on the U.S. decennial census. It described the concepts, politics, and history of the decennial census while also offering clear, accessible information on current census methods and results. In short, the encyclopedia has supplied authoritative, concise, and accurate answers to questions about census taking in the United States, past and present.

      Nevertheless, the time has come for a second edition, and not simply to incorporate the results of the 2000 and 2010 censuses. Since 2000, the decennial census long-form sample, which was the source of social and economic data for geographic areas and population groups in the United States from 1960 to 2000, has been replaced by the continuous American Community Survey (ACS). The second edition covers this sea change in official demographic data collection with a new special section on the American Community Survey, which appears at the beginning of the entries. Other entries are also updated to incorporate this development. In addition, a host of new and updated entries capture the continued conceptual, methodological, and technical changes that affected the design and execution of the 2010 census. The new edition therefore is an up-to-date as well as historical look at the U.S census, including census results as of spring 2011. It is also available in a searchable digital format by subscription at http://library.cqpress.com/.

      The essays in this volume, organized alphabetically, identify the principal techniques, terms, processes, issues, and concepts of census taking. The underlying logic of the volume is based on the logic of census taking in the United States. We include essays on the mechanics of the census: the procedures for preparing the questionnaire, printing and mailing the forms, retrieving the information from American households, processing the data, and disseminating data products to users. We discuss the data produced from the census: the demographic results, how to get access to the information, and who makes use of the data. Other essays discuss the decennial census in the context of public policy, including its origins in the federal Constitution as a mechanism for apportioning seats in the House of Representatives. We include short articles that provide a snapshot of the nation at each of the decennial censuses from 1790 to the present. And we address census controversies, both historical and current, including the legal controversies surrounding census taking; the apportionment of Congress; the privacy of census information; and the propriety and usefulness of particular questions on such sensitive issues as income, race, and family status.

      The encyclopedia includes some 140 signed articles by prominent scholars, professionals, and other census experts. The articles have been written to be accessible to students, scholars, and general readers, and the book is structured in such a way as to facilitate retrieval of information. Accompanying each article are cross-references to related articles and a brief bibliography that suggests further reading. A detailed index guides readers to the information they need.

      In addition to the articles, the encyclopedia includes a wide assortment of maps, tables, and figures. A sixteen-page photo gallery documents the history of census taking in America. The appendix contains useful tabular data and other supplementary materials, such as the budget for taking the census; a list of Census Bureau directors; examples of census and ACS forms and questions; a center-of-population map and U.S. population totals from each census taken since 1790; information on the apportionment of Congress, including apportionment methods and formulas among other reference materials.

      Census taking may be one of the most routine and ordinary functions of the federal government, yet it is little understood. It is also one of the oldest activities of the federal government, dating, like postal service and tax collection, to the birth of the republic in 1789. But unlike these other venerable government activities, the census has historically been infrequent, arriving on the public scene only once a decade and then receding from public consciousness between counts. The separation of social and economic content from the data used strictly for reapportionment and redistricting, however, has produced a paradigm shift, altering the once-in-a-decade time stamp that has been the familiar hallmark of the census This volume is designed to help readers understand this shift by providing what they need to know about the census, from the earliest to the most recent enumeration, including advances that have been recently incorporated, and by providing a glimpse into what may lie ahead for the American census.

      Definitions: What Is a Census?

      A census is a count of the population of a country as of a fixed date. National governments conduct censuses to determine how many people live in different areas of the country; to assess whether the population is growing, stable, or declining in the country as a whole and in particular parts of the country; and to describe the characteristics of the population in terms of age, sex, ethnic background, marital status, income, and other variables. Generally, governments collect the information by sending a questionnaire in the mail or an interviewer to every household or residential address in the country. The questionnaire asks the head of the household or a responsible adult in the household (the respondent) to list all of the people who live at the address as of a particular date and to answer a series of questions about each of them. The respondent or the interviewer is then responsible for sending the answers back to the government agency, which in turn tabulates or aggregates the answers for the country overall and for political subdivisions such as states or provinces, cities, counties, or other civil divisions. The agency usually reports the results to the public a few months or years after the census; the results are considered “news” and are reported by the media.

      Because censuses aim to count the entire population of a country, they are very expensive and elaborate administrative operations and thus are conducted relatively infrequently, generally at five or ten-year intervals. Between censuses, governments estimate the size and characteristics of the population by extrapolating the trends identified in the census into the future, by estimating the population from other data systems such as vital statistics or tax records, or by conducting periodic sample surveys. Researchers also can use representative probability samples to collect information from a small portion of the population; these can be conducted frequently, even monthly. In the United States, the Current Population Survey of about 60,000 households is conducted and reports monthly, and the American Community Survey reports results yearly. (See American Community Survey; Federal household surveys.) To provide more frequent updates of population characteristics for small geographic areas and to streamline the decennial census, the U.S. Census Bureau has turned to the continuous ACS to collect many types of data traditionally collected in the census.

      National governments also conduct other types of censuses, particularly of economic activity such as agriculture, manufacturing, or business. Such censuses collect information on the number and characteristics of farms, businesses, or manufacturing firms. In the past the U.S. Census Bureau conducted such censuses at the same time as the population census. Today the economic censuses are generally conducted on a different schedule from the population census. (See Agricultural censuses; Censuses in other countries; Economic censuses.)

      The American Experience

      Censuses have been taken since ancient times. Emperors and kings used them to assess the strength of their realms. These early censuses were conducted sporadically and generally served to measure the tax or military capacity of a particular area. Unlike modern censuses, they tended to count only adult men, men liable for military service, or tithables (people liable to pay taxes). The modern census of all persons dates from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the colonial powers of western Europe sought to determine the success of their overseas colonies. (See Colonial censuses.)

      The U.S. decennial census was mandated by the 1787 federal Constitution as a mechanism for determining the political representation for each state in the House of Representatives. Article I of the Constitution created Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) and defined its membership and capacities. Paragraph three of section 2 described the method of constituting the House:

      Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other Persons. 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, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

      Section 9 of Article I included the only other mention of the census in the Constitution: “No capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.” The language of Article I provided the solution to one of the fundamental political controversies of the American revolutionary era: how to allocate representation in legislative assemblies. Before the American Revolution, the colonists had protested their lack of representation in the British Parliament. They had also objected to the existence of rotten boroughs—legislative districts with few or no people living in them. A legislator from such a district cast the same single vote as a representative from a city with thousands of people.

      After declaring their independence in 1776, the newly united thirteen colonies struggled over the problem of equitably distributing the burdens and resources of the national government among large and small states. In the Continental Congress and under the Articles of Confederation during the 1770s and 1780s, states voted as units, regardless of their wealth or population. The larger states opposed this system, which was one element of government that they sought to reform in the 1787 Constitution.

      The framers of the Constitution resolved the dispute between large and small states by allocating representation in the House according to population and in the Senate by state. In the Senate each state, regardless of size, would have two members. Since the framers also intended for “direct taxes” to be allocated among the states according to population, the large states would gain greater House representation but would pay higher taxes to the federal government. The strength of each state in the Electoral College to select the president and vice president would be determined by summing its Senate and House members. Finally, the framers were well aware that populations—and especially the American population—grew and shifted over time and that no legislative apportionment could be permanent.

      The census and apportionment mechanisms of the federal Constitution were crucial pieces of the Great Compromise among the large and small states that made a new national government possible. The United States became the first nation in the world to take a regular population census and to use it to apportion legislative seats. Since then, the decennial census and reapportionment, like regular elections, have facilitated the always difficult process of transferring political power among various elements of the population.

      The issue of allocating representation based on population was complicated further by the institution of racial slavery and the relationships between the Euro-American majority and American Indians. At the time of the Revolution, about 20 percent of the American population was enslaved. If population were the apportionment measure, should the southern states be granted political representation for the slave population? Should the slaves be considered “property” for purposes of tax assessments? Northern states were already beginning to abolish the institution of slavery and were wary of writing any support for the system into the Constitution. Southerners insisted that the slaves be counted as part of the population. The framers decided to base both representation and direct taxes on population. The rather clumsy solution to the slavery dilemma was the Three-fifths compromise. Slaves would be counted in the census but would be “discounted” to 60 percent of a free person when calculating the state population totals for apportionment.

      At the time of the American Revolution, Indian tribes were considered sovereign powers. The Constitution gave Congress the power to “regulate Commerce … with the Indian Tribes” and created the category of “Indians not taxed,” that is, American Indians who lived within the boundaries of the United States but did not owe taxes to the United States since they maintained allegiance to their tribe. “Indians not taxed” thus became the one population group within U.S. territory specifically excluded from enumeration in the decennial census. Thus, until passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, the census recognized three civil statuses: free, slave, and nontaxed Indian. The amendment, which granted full civil and political rights to the former slaves, retained the exemption from enumeration for nontaxed Indians. The exemption for American Indians was finally ended in 1924 with the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act. (See American Indians and Alaska Natives.)

      Since the purpose of the census was to distribute House seats among the states, Congress mandated that the census count the population by geographic area so that it could allocate political representation. The states, too, began to use census data to allocate representation to particular geographic areas in state and local legislative bodies.

      Implementing the System

      The censuses from 1790 to 1840 were simple counts of the people in each household or family. Congress instructed the U.S. marshals to appoint assistants, who in turn were supposed to contact each household head to find out how many people in particular age, race, and sex categories lived in the household. The assistant totaled the household counts and transmitted them to the U.S. marshal, who in turn totaled the assistants’ counts and transmitted them to Washington, D.C. The secretary of state and a clerk or two added the numbers obtained from all U.S. marshals and submitted them to Congress. No bureaucracy existed to check the coverage or accuracy of the enumeration. Neither the federal government nor the marshals were required to map their local areas. Congress required that the census workers take an oath that they had faithfully counted everyone; returns were posted in a public place so that people could check them. The major concern of government officials in those early years of the census was that the returns be collected at all. In the sparsely settled nation, it took about a year to conduct the census, and Congress routinely had to legislate extra time for the marshals to collect the information.

      Despite these difficulties, by the early nineteenth century the census had developed a successful record. The population was counted, and Congress was reapportioned. Congress experimented with direct-tax measures based on the census in the late 1790s and again during the War of 1812. It found, however, that the tariff was a more efficient source of federal revenue and thus let this provision of the Constitution fall into disuse. The country at the time was overwhelmingly agricultural and rural. The U.S. population was also growing rapidly—at the rate of 30 to 35 percent a decade. In a society where the prime issues were integrating new states into the Union and accounting for growth based on the settlement of western land, the census proved to be an effective mechanism by which to allocate and reallocate political power each decade.

      Today we know what nineteenth-century Americans were just beginning to realize: the United States has one of the most heterogeneous and flourishing populations in the history of the world. From a mere 3.9 million rural residents spread along the East Coast in 1790, the population has grown to more than 300 million spread from coast to coast. Until the early twentieth century the nation was predominantly rural; now it is overwhelmingly urban. Racially and ethnically the population was and is diverse, though the character of that diversity has changed throughout the country's history. That the American political system has absorbed the shocks of these demographic and economic changes is remarkable.

      The census has been one of the chief mechanisms for absorbing the shocks because it guarantees that geographic areas receive political representation in proportion to their population. Over time states with populations that grew relative to the rest of the nation received relatively more representation in Congress. Those with stable or declining populations lost representation. By 1820 several of the original thirteen states began to lose seats in the House. By the outbreak of the Civil War, in 1861, the original thirteen states no longer held a majority of House seats.

      Once Americans had acquired several decades of experience with census taking, they began to ask questions about technical issues of counting the population and the meaning of rapid population growth. Almanacs began to publish census figures for local areas. Local boosters in western states used these figures to encourage further settlement. On the downside, political leaders from parts of the country that were not growing as fast as others began to realize that slower relative population growth meant their political power would erode after the next reapportionment.

      Over time, states that thought of themselves as “losing” in the population growth game began to object to a system that rewarded growth so relentlessly and began to scrutinize the underlying census results. Although their objections never disrupted the functioning of the census, at several points in the past two centuries the decennial census and reapportionment process brought into sharp relief other political controversies. The first major controversy arose during the Civil War era and reflected the growing conflict between North and South over the future of slavery and control of the national government. The second occurred in the 1920s, as the rural areas of the country refused to relinquish control of legislative bodies to the new urban majority. The third began with the Supreme Court decisions of the 1960s mandating the one-person, one-vote rule for legislative apportionment. That controversy continued to 2000. As the census was politicized, it lost its major original function as a mechanism to defuse the contentiousness surrounding the allocation of political power among the constituent elements of the population. And in all three eras—the 1860s, the 1920s, and the 1960s—the controversies surrounding the census led to technical and administrative reforms of the census taking process, which in turn has provided Americans with ever greater amounts of information about their society.

      Demographic Challenges and the Engine of Census Innovation

      Western population growth did not pose a dangerous challenge to American governmental stability because there was a general consensus that western expansion was a good thing. However, other shifts in population were more problematic. By the 1820s it was clear that the southern population was not growing as fast as the northern. Each census and reapportionment therefore weakened southern power in the House and hence made control of the Senate and the presidency that much more important. The growing demographic imbalance between North and South also drew increasing attention to the census process. The first major effort to reform the census took place in the same session of Congress that debated the Compromise of 1850. (See Decennial censuses: 1850 census.) Congress created the post of census superintendent and authorized a large, temporary office in the Interior Department to tally and publish the census. Congress required that each person in the country have a separate line on the census form. In other words, the individual rather than the household became the unit of analysis. Also, many new questions were added to the census schedule.

      Further changes were made during the Civil War years. The southern states began to secede after Abraham Lincoln's election in November 1860, as the 1860 census was completed and reports of the continuing decline of the relative strength of the southern population were appearing in the press. As southerners looked to the future, they saw that they would face more losses in the House. The relentless, recurring process of census taking and reapportionment exacerbated the sectional crisis. Northerners endorsed the census and apportionment process because they worked to the North's political advantage. As Lincoln and the Republicans took over the government, they were unconcerned that the simple constitutional mechanism of awarding power in accordance with population did not take account of the dislocation faced by regions that lost in the race of relative growth.

      Northern Republicans realized that the census and reapportionment would work to their political disadvantage after the Civil War and Reconstruction. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery, also implicitly ended the Three-fifths compromise. (The Fourteenth Amendment would abolish the three-fifths formula explicitly.) With its demise, the southern states would gain a windfall of increased representation in Congress. However, since few policymakers expected the freed slaves to be able to vote initially, they realized that a disfranchised free black population would strengthen the white-led southern states and permit the Democrats to come dangerously close to gaining control of the presidency as early as 1868.

      The logic of population counting and apportionment, therefore, was one of the major forces driving Congress to extend further political and civil rights to the freedmen. The Fourteenth Amendment extended citizenship, due process, and equal protection of the laws to all “persons born or naturalized in the United States.” It also contained a provision—never enforced—to reduce the representation of a state that disfranchised any portion of its male citizenry. The ambiguity of that sanction led to passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which declared that the right to vote “shall not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

      In the years after the Civil War, the American population continued to grow and spread rapidly, by world standards, but never again would it achieve a national growth rate of 30 percent a decade. By 1890 the census superintendent announced the closing of the frontier. At the same time, the census takers documented rapid urban growth. Cities had replaced the rural West as the locus of the most rapid growth, and European immigrants as well as native-born Americans were flocking to the new jobs and opportunities the cities offered.

      As the twentieth century dawned, the census takers could see political power shifting again—this time to the rapidly urbanizing and industrializing states in the Northeast and Midwest with their growing polyglot populations. From the Civil War until World War I, Congress solved the decennial problem of reallocating political power among the states by increasing the size of the House of Representatives. In 1860 the House comprised 243 members; by 1910 there were 435. Areas with slow-growing or declining populations lost relative, but not absolute, political power in the House.

      In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Congress expanded the administrative capacity of the census office. In 1880 the census superintendent received the authority to map the country, appoint local census supervisors, and test the enumerators for basic competency at their jobs. In 1890 the Census Office pioneered the machine tabulation (see Pre-computer tabulation systems) of census results. In 1902 the office became a permanent government bureau, and it joined the new Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903.

      After the 1920 census, another apportionment crisis arose. The statisticians announced that a majority of Americans lived in urban areas, a development that threatened to undermine rural states’ domination of national politics and rural towns’ domination of state politics. The strikes and violence that erupted at the end of World War I were generally centered in the big cities, the home of immigrants and industrial workers, and such behavior deeply disturbed small-town and rural Americans. As the nation turned in revulsion from all things foreign, particularly European, Congress moved to restrict immigration and to delay reapportionment.

      Congress had vowed in 1910 not to increase the size of the House beyond 435 members. When the census results showed that the great gainers from congressional reapportionment would be the large urban states—primarily in the Northeast and Midwest—Congress balked at passing an apportionment bill. Leaders from predominantly rural states refused to surrender political power to urban states. They argued that geography was the true basis for representation; that the urban states did not deserve representation for their noncitizen, foreign-born populations; and that urban political machines were corrupting traditional republican institutions. They also argued that because the census was taken in the immediate aftermath of World War I and in January—a month when farm workers were often absent from their land—the bureau had incorrectly allocated rural residents to cities where they were temporarily employed. For the remainder of the 1920s no bill passed, and for the only time in the history of the republic, Congress was not reapportioned.

      In 1929 Congress finally passed a prospective bill, which would reapportion Congress in 1932 using the results of the 1930 census. But as part of the difficult compromise that made the bill possible, Congress removed the existing requirement that congressional districts be substantially equal in size. In short, Congress redistributed political power among the states but quietly permitted malapportioned districts within states in order to preserve rural and small-town dominance of Congress. By the early 1930s, it was not uncommon for congressional districts in large urban areas to encompass seven or eight times more people than those in rural areas. A similar pattern of apportionment held true at the local and state government level.

      Malapportionment would remain the norm until the 1960s. In the meantime, the census was redirected to address new issues. The Census Bureau pioneered the collection of new information to cope with the problems of depression and war in the 1930s and 1940s. It used the first nondefense computer in the 1950s. With the growth of population-based federal aid and grant programs, census numbers came to be employed to administer a wide variety of laws and funding allocations at all levels of the federal system. The U.S. Bureau of the Census introduced probability sampling methods in 1940, and by 1950 it had separated the main census schedule into a “short form” questionnaire for all households and a “long form” sample to collect detailed characteristics of 16 to 25 percent of households. It also developed sample surveys to collect information between decennial counts, quality control procedures, methods to measure the accuracy of the basic census count and the quality of responses to individual questions, and mail enumeration procedures.

      By the 1960s it was clear that the compromises of the 1920s had built major distortions into the apportionment and districting systems of the nation. Substantial numbers of Americans in urban and suburban areas were underrepresented in their state legislatures and in Congress. Older cities were losing population and no longer seemed to threaten the future of the republic. Nevertheless, legislatures dominated by rural members were unwilling to reapportion or redistrict. Thus, a series of carefully crafted test cases made their way through the court system.

      In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled in Baker v. Carr that individuals could challenge the constitutionality of a malapportioned state legislature in court. The case led to a series of decisions that declared that state legislatures, local legislative bodies, and congressional districts had to be apportioned according to the rule that came to be called “one-person, one-vote.” Citing the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the language of Article I, section 2 of the Constitution, the Court ruled that states must draw legislative districts such that they encompass an equal number of people as counted in the decennial census. Other methods of drawing legislative districts, which might use political or geographic boundaries, were invalid if those districts were not equal in population. As Chief Justice Earl Warren noted in his impassioned ruling in Reynolds v. Sims (1964), which restored population as the apportionment measure:

      Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests. As long as ours is a representative form of government, and our legislatures are those instruments of government elected directly by and directly representative of the people, the right to elect legislators in a free and unimpaired fashion is a bedrock of our political system.

      Thus, he concluded, “the right of suffrage can be denied by a debasement or dilution of the weight of a citizen's vote just as effectively as by wholly prohibiting the free exercise of the franchise.” Since legislatures should be apportioned on the basis of one-person, one-vote, such “dilution” was unconstitutional. By the late 1960s, congressional and legislative districts around the country had been redrawn to meet the new guidelines, and underrepresented areas—mainly urban and suburban areas—had a dramatically increased level of legislative representation.

      The Supreme Court requirement for legislative districts to be equal in population drew new attention to the quality of census data. Statisticians and demographers knew that the census counted some groups in the population more accurately than others, and demographers had developed a substantial technical literature on underenumeration and census accuracy. Minorities, the poor, and urban dwellers were counted less accurately than those people living in suburbs and middle-class areas of the country. Once local officials began to understand the implications of the one-person, one-vote decisions, they and Congress began to look much more closely at the quality of local-area census data. Officials in local areas that were undercounted or miscounted sought to improve the data, and census officials began to see interest in better data not only from demographers but also from ordinary citizens unschooled in the niceties of advanced statistical methods.

      For most of the 1970s and 1980s, the census was embroiled in a complex set of controversies about improving the count. Congress, statisticians, local officials, and minority representatives demanded that the bureau count the population better in the first place and that it make plans to adjust the census in light of the inevitable undercounts. The bureau began to develop methods to improve the count and to experiment with adjustment methods to correct for undercounts. The budget for the census grew dramatically. New advisory committees worked on the planning efforts. The bureau successfully defended itself against fifty-four lawsuits after the 1980 census that accused the bureau of using improper and inadequate methods.

      In the late 1980s, the U.S. Bureau of the Census developed what it hoped would be a statistically defensible method of adjusting the decennial census for the undercount, but it faced political resistance in the George H. W. Bush administration. Advocates for the new methods sued, and the courts mandated that the new methods be implemented in 1990. In 1991, the commerce secretary decided not to adjust the 1990 census results. In the 1990s the administration of Bill Clinton took the opposite tack, proposing a census design that included adjustment of the 2000 census, including the apportionment counts. Republican members of Congress sued to stop the Clinton plan. In Department of Commerce v. United States House (1999), the Supreme Court ruled that the current census statute prevented the use of sampling methods for reapportioning congressional seats after the 2000 census. The Census Bureau changed the design for the 2000 count so that the remaining census results, including the redistricting data, could be adjusted if the results indicated that adjusted data were more accurate. In 2001 the Census Bureau decided against adjustment, and the George W. Bush administration did not revive further efforts to adjust census results for undercount or to plan for such an eventuality in the 2010 census.

      Nevertheless, the controversies over census accuracy indirectly led to other major innovations in census taking. Data users had begun to ask if it would be possible to collect the detailed characteristic data in the census more frequently. Furthermore, the mail response rate had dropped in the 1990 census and was lower for the long-form questionnaires than for the short-form questionnaires. As a result, the Census Bureau began a program to measure long-form characteristics separately from the short-form items that were required to fulfill the constitutional requirements of the census. This program, which began testing in the mid-1990s, would eventually be known as the American Community Survey. Further, increasing public resistance to the census and the ineffectiveness of previous pro bono advertising campaigns led to the adoption of major paid advertising efforts to promote public awareness for the 2000 and 2010 censuses. For 2010 this included using the new information-age tools of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The U.S. Census Bureau's website became the locus of news, information, and promotion of the count, as well as the locus for finding census results. The American Community Survey replaced the long form in the 2010 census, and the 2010 count returned to the briefest set of questions since 1790 (see American Community Survey: introduction).

      Innovation is likely to continue in the years ahead, still guided by the original purpose of the census. The census was and is a mechanism for distributing political power and economic resources among the various elements of the population. The founders created it because they needed a simple, automatic mechanism for apportioning legislative seats that was acceptable to all political factions. If we recognize this function, perhaps we can also set standards for resolving controversies and shaping technical improvements in the census.

      MARGO J. ANDERSON

      Contributors to the Second Edition

      Affiliations listed in italics. The articles are the personal work of the author(s); are copyrighted by CQ Press; and do not constitute official or authoritative documents by an author's agency, company, or educational institution.

      ADAMS, MARGARET O'NEILL National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

      ANDERSON, ALBERT F. Public Data Queries Inc.

      AUSTIN, ERIK W. ICPSR, University of Michigan

      Archival access to the census

      BAXTER, PAM M. Cornell University

      BENNETT, CLAUDETTE U.S. Census Bureau

      BISHOP, DEIRDRE DALPIAZ U.S. Census Bureau

      BOGGESS, SCOTT U.S. Census Bureau

      American Community Survey: data products

      BOWIE, CHET NORC at the University of Chicago

      American Community Survey: questionnaire content

      BRYANT, BARBARA EVERITT University of Michigan (retired)

      CHRISTOPHER, ED J. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration

      COHEN, MICHAEL L. National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council

      COHEN, PATRICIA CLINE University of California, Santa Barbara

      COHN, D'VERA Pew Research Center

      CORK, DANIEL L. National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council

      CZAJKA, JOHN L. Mathematica Policy Research

      DEVINE, TIMOTHY J. U.S. Census Bureau

      DIENSTFREY, STEPHEN J. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (retired)

      EDMONSTON, BARRY University of Victoria

      ELHAMI, SHOREH Delaware County (Ohio) Auditor's GIS Office

      ERICKSEN, EUGENE P. Temple University

      FIENBERG, STEPHEN E. Carnegie Mellon University

      FORSTALL, RICHARD L. U.S. Census Bureau (retired)

      GAGE, LINDA California Department of Finance

      GATES, GERALD W. U.S. Census Bureau (retired)

      GONA, DEBORAH A. Gona & Associates

      GRANDA, PETER A. ICPSR, University of Michigan

      GRIFFIN, DEBORAH H. U.S. Census Bureau

      American Community Survey: methodology

      GROVES, ROBERT M. U.S. Census Bureau

      HABERMANN, HERMANN formerly U.S. Census Bureau and United Nations Statistics Division

      HARDCASTLE, JEFF University of Nevada, Reno

      Enumerating: rural areas

      HARRIS-KOJETIN, BRIAN Office of Management and Budget

      HODGES, KEN Nielsen

      HOGAN, HOWARD U.S. Census Bureau

      JACOBSEN, LINDA A. Population Reference Bureau

      American Community Survey: data products

      KALTON, GRAHAM Westat

      American Community Survey: using multi-year estimates

      KOMINSKI, ROBERT A. U.S. Census Bureau

      American Community Survey: implementation from 2005

      LAMACCHIA, ROBERT A. U.S. Census Bureau (retired)

      LAVIN, MICHAEL R. State University of New York at Buffalo

      LEVIN, MICHAEL J. Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies

      LOBO, ARUN PETER New York City Department of City Planning

      LOVE, SUSAN P. Consultant

      American Community Survey: methodology

      MAURY, WILLIAM M. U.S. Census Bureau

      McCULLY, CATHY U.S. Census Bureau

      McDERMOTT, MONICA University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

      White or European-origin population

      McMILLEN, DAVID National Archives and Records Administration

      MESSER, CHRIS U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service

      MULRY, MARY H. U.S. Census Bureau

      MURAKAMI, ELAINE U.S Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration

      MURDOCK, STEVE H. Rice University

      NAYMARK, JOAN GENTILI Target Corporation

      NEIDERT, LISA University of Michigan

      PEMBERTON, DAVID M. U.S. Census Bureau

      POWERS, MARY G. Fordham University

      PREWITT, KENNETH Columbia University

      RALEY, R. KELLY University of Texas at Austin

      ROBINSON, J. GREGORY U.S. Census Bureau

      ROTHWELL, CHARLES J. National Center for Health Statistics

      ROWE, JUDITH S. Princeton University (retired)

      RUGGLES, STEVEN University of Minnesota

      SALVO, JOSEPH J. New York City Department of City Planning

      American Community Survey: implementation from 2005

      American Community Survey: introduction

      SCARDAMALIA, ROBERT RLS Demographics, Inc.

      SCHECHTER, SUSAN NORC at the University of Chicago

      American Community Survey: questionnaire content

      SNIPP, C. MATTHEW Stanford University

      SPERLING, JONATHAN U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

      STOREY, TIM National Conference of State Legislatures

      THOMPSON, JOHN H. NORC at the University of Chicago

      VELKOFF, VICTORIA A. U.S. Census Bureau

      WAITE, PRESTON JAY U.S. Census Bureau (retired)

      American Community Survey: development to 2004

      WEINBERG, DANIEL H. U.S. Census Bureau

      WEST, KIRSTEN K. U.S. Census Bureau

      ZEISSET, PAUL T. U.S. Census Bureau (retired)

      Contributors to the First Edition

      ALEXANDER, CHARLES (DECEASED)

      American Community Survey

      ALLEN, RICH

      BAILAR, BARBARA A.

      DOYLE, PAT (DECEASED)

      GOLDFIELD, EDWIN D. (DECEASED)

      HARSHBARGER, DOROTHY S.

      HEELEN, J. PATRICK

      HIRSCHFELD, DONALD

      JENKINS, ROBERT M.

      KELLER, JAY K.

      LAROCHE, BENOIT

      LONG, LARRY

      Geography: distribution of the population

      McCLURE, PAUL

      REEDER, FRANKLIN S.

      Statistical policy and oversight

      RICHE, MARTHA FARNSWORTH

      SIEGEL, PAUL

      Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE)

      SMITH, DANIEL SCOTT (DECEASED)

      SPAR, EDWARD J.

      STUART, JOHN M.

      VOSS, PAUL R.

      WRIGHT, TOMMY

      Sampling for follow-up of nonresponding households

      List of Entries

    Back to Top