Quick Study: Census 2010

Flash Points Winners, losers: The 2000 census results were good news for Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Texas: Each state gained

Flash Points
Winners, losers: The 2000 census results were good news for Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Texas: Each state gained two seats in the House of Representatives, thanks to population gains. Illinois, Ohio, and New York lost seats. For 2010, experts predict that the Northeast will lose four congressional seats and the Midwest will shed six, with five seats apiece heading to the South and West.

2010 In March, more than 120
million census forms will be
mailed out. If you don’t
reply, expect to hear from
one of the Census Bureau’s
1.4 million temporary hires.

No citizen left behind? Accuracy is a big issue. In one study, the U.S. Census Monitoring Board used projections and statistical sampling of the 2000 census to determine that the final tally missed three million people, causing the District of Columbia and 31 states to lose $4.1 billion in federal funding. This drives Democrats nuts, since the undercounted are most likely to be part of their constituency: poor people and minorities, who might be difficult to track down or wary of government.

Math and class: Given that one person’s statistical-sampling-based projections are another’s agenda-driven cooking of the books, Republicans have resisted efforts to adjust census results using mathematical tools. On the traditionalists’ side: the U.S. Constitution, which in mandating a census called for an “actual enumeration,” not a guesstimate.

Count me out:
In June, Michele Bachmann, a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, vowed not to fully respond to the 2010 census, calling it government intrusion. Participation, however, isn’t optional. Failure to fill out the census form is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000. (Wrongful disclosure of confidential information, on the other hand, is a felony.)

The seed of controversy: Census “partners” help in counting harder-to-reach groups. One, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), proved especially divisive—even before an undercover video surfaced, showing its workers offering advice to brothel owners on passing off underage prostitutes as legal dependents.

Measure for Measure: A snapshot of the tallies, then and now
Population
1790: 3,900,000
2009: 308,000,000

Census Takers
Number in 1790: 650
Number in 2010: 650,000

Participation
67%: Mail-in response rate for 2000 census, after declining from 78 percent in 1970

$90 million
Amount the government saves in door-to-door census worker salaries with each 1 percent increase in mail-in response rate.

Marital Status
1880: First year included on census forms
2010: First year same-sex married couples allowed to declare

Urban Population
Cities with the biggest gains, 2000–2008
New York
Houston
Phoenix

… and with the biggest losses
New Orleans
Philadelphia
Cleveland

79: Percentage of people living in an urban area in 2000—up from 51 percent in 1920

An Early Look
Trends for 2010

The Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey offers specifics you won’t find in the 2010 census. Some highlights:

  • For the first time in a decade, the total number of foreign-born residents did not grow.
  • The share of people who have never married increased 4 percent from 2000 to 2008.
  • Real median household income declined nationwide, ranging from $37,790 in Mississippi to $70,545 in Maryland.
  • The median price of a home fell to $197,600, with the biggest declines in Nevada and California.

Forward Thinking
We know where you live. Really. This year, many enumerators, or census takers, will carry handheld computers equipped with a Global Positioning System to help track down addresses. GPS use will make the searching go faster and increase productivity, but the big advantage, according to the Census Bureau, is that adding GPS coordinates for addresses to the bureau’s database will ensure that an accurate location is recorded for each resident. That will help officials redraw congressional districts if necessary.

Keeping it brief: There will be just ten questions on the 2010 census form—one of the shortest since the first enumeration, in 1790. (Question No. 1: How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?) It will use 30 percent less ink than the 2000 census and be printed on 30 percent recycled paper. And there will be no long-form supplemental survey: These days, the bureau gets much of its most detailed information about us from the annual American Community Survey and the every-five-years Economic Census.

Oficina del Censo: The upcoming census will be the first to offer Spanish-language questionnaires—part of an effort to increase participation by Hispanics, many of whom fear filling out the government form if they are in the country illegally. (In fact, the census doesn’t ask about citizenship, only nationality. And cities benefit from having illegal, as well as legal, immigrants participate, since larger urban populations mean more federal aid.) Also encouraging a better count? Telemundo producers, who made a character in a popular Spanish-language soap opera a census worker to help ease fears of the count.

Bargain rate: U.S. officials may want to look to Switzerland. Its 2010 census will be the first that annually synthesizes information gleaned from local and regional population registers, records of buildings and dwellings, and other public information, supplemented by a sample survey of 200,000 people. The new approach, according to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, offers “an excellent cost/benefit ratio.” Its cost? About $10 million per year. (They take their census annually.) The U.S. price tag for 2010? Nearly $15 billion.

The Time Line
1787 / The U.S. Constitution mandates that a national census be conducted every ten years to determine seats in the House of Representatives and to guide tax policy.

1790 / The first census records the head of household’s name and counts occupants (slaves are tallied as three fifths of a person). Total cost: $44,000.

1810 / To get a sense of the national economy, Congress orders census takers to tally manufacturers too.

1830 / Census-taking marshals and their assistants are finally given officially printed census forms so they won’t have to use whatever blank paper they find handy.

1840 / Census grows to more than 70 questions, including the number of “insane and idiotic” in each household.

1850 / All free household residents are now recorded, in addition to the head.

1860 / The census, especially its industrial statistics, will prove useful in assessing the relative strengths of the North and South during the Civil War.

1880 / The government gives federal marshals a break and hires “enumerators.”

1890 / Hands-free! Electronic punch-card machines are introduced.

1930 / Census takers begin to mea¬-sure unemployment. Jobless respondents not hard to find.

1950s / Gigantic UNIVAC I computer helps tabulate results; still relies on punch cards to do so.

1980 / The ever more exact census becomes ever more politicized: States, local governments, and civil rights groups file lawsuits challenging the results.

1998 / Cities and states that lost funding after the ’90 census support a suit to use statistical sampling to adjust for under- and overcounts, with President Clinton’s endorsement. The Supreme Court rules against them 5 to 4 in 1999.

2010 / In March, more than 120 million census forms will be mailed out. If you don’t reply, expect to hear from one of the Census Bureau’s 1.4 million temporary hires.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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