You Count, Really

CensusIt’s almost that time again: once every 10 years, a massive mail-in survey and house-to-house head-counting project called the U.S. Census is undertaken. The idea of a census has been around since at least the Roman Empire. It’s spelled out in Article I, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution and has been conducted decennially since the beginning of the Republic. Although the 2010 Census won’t officially begin until next year, it’s stirring up strong debate in political circles. Much hinges on the nation’s official statistical survey of the population: from congressional and state legislative districting to the amount of federal money distributed to local communities and governments affecting education, highway, and job-training programs among many others.

In February controversy over the politics of the census surrounded Republican senator Judd Gregg, President Barack Obama’s second nominee to head the Commerce Department. As an agency of the Commerce Department, the Census Bureau is under the authority of the president, but debate centered on how much direct control the White House would exert over the way the census is conducted, especially because census data used in apportionment and districting could affect the electoral landscape for years to come.

The census is not just the subject of a partisan struggle between Democrats and Republicans. It is important for the role it plays in providing the federal government with accurate data on which to base its programs. As part of the Obama administration’s attempt to stimulate the U.S. economy, the Census Bureau may also help “create thousands of good-paying jobs,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke recently. “A successful census is critical for ensuring that communities have proper representation and the resources needed for health care, law enforcement, and education.”

It’s no easy task to count every person in the United States, which now has more than 300 million people. The challenge for census takers is to avoid either overcounting or undercounting. Some communities or subpopulations—such as those with no fixed address and residents of nursing homes, prisons, or homeless shelters—are difficult to count with precision. Recent immigrants, particularly those who are undocumented, are another group that may be difficult to count accurately; many are hesitant to answer questions in a government survey. Experts also say that people’s privacy concerns or fears that the government may misuse personal data can get in the way of an accurate census.

Related Links

  • 2010 Census Stirs Debate In Washington
    A National Public Radio reporter interviews a Republican leader and a former Census Bureau official discusses which president will have more impact on the upcoming census: Obama or Bush. (Source: NPR)
  • Why the 2010 Census Stirs Up Partisan Politics
    Learn about the political wrangling that has accompanied recent discussions of the 2010 Census. (Source: Time, Inc.)
  • What is the Census?
    This Web site is the Census Bureau’s clearing house for the 2010 Census. It includes a “Census in Schools” page with Fun Stats, activities, quizzes, and State Facts for Students. (Source:
  • 2010 Census Still Imperiled by Technical, Other Troubles, GAO Says
    The cost of the 2010 Census could top $15 billion by 2012, according to the Government Accounting Office, which would make it the most costly in U.S. history. This article examines problems with the information technology being used to conduct the head count. (Source: Washington Post, March 5, 2009)
  • US Census Bureau 2010 Jobs Main Page
    The Census Bureau hired more than 100,000 people in April 2009. If you want to know more about a possible job as a census taker, check out this Web site. (Source:
  • Myths and falsehoods about the 2010 census and the Obama administration
    The controversy that erupted in February 2009 over the White House and the 2010 Census involved myths, misunderstandings, and misrepresentations—in other words, politics as usual—and is examined here by a liberal media-watchdog group. (Source:
  • Political Battle Brews Over 2010 Census
    Here’s a taste of the original controversy as it erupted following Judd Gregg’s decision to withdraw as commerce secretary nominee for President Obama’s cabinet. (Source: Fox News, February 7, 2009)
  • Count on the Constitution
    A conservative political commentator analyzes the recent flare-up over the census from a historical perspective, with particular attention to the debate over sampling versus enumeration. (Source:

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One Comment

  1. Amyra says:

    This article is pure gineus! Your blog is the first one i bookmarked in a very long time. It seems we think alike, let me know if you want to talk some more on the subject.