• U.S. Census
    It pays to be counted—literally. Census data helps determine how the government spends money and employs members of Congress.

    Photograph courtesy U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office (PIO)

    By the Numbers
    Counting the entire population of the United States is no easy task.

    • 360 million questionnaires were printed for the 2010 census. Stacked one on top of another, a pile of these forms would stand about 29 miles high—more than five times higher than Mount Everest. If stretched end to end, these forms would circle the globe three times!
    • The 2010 questionnaire was available in 6 languages: English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin), Korean, Russian, and Vietnamese
    • 1.2 million people were hired to conduct the 2010 census 
    • The 494 local census offices—which manage field work, conduct local recruiting, and visit living quarters—take up about 3.5 million square feet of office space.

    Everyone Accounted For
    The U.S. Census gathers demographic information on everyone living in the United States. This includes citizens, residents who are citizens of another country, long-term visitors, and undocumented immigrants.

    The U.S. Census does not calculate the number or demographics of homeless Americans. Instead, it provides a random survey of people staying in homeless shelters or living in designated street locations on a specific date.

    Prior to the 1870 census, the program also counted slaves. Slaves were counted as part of their owner's household.

    Right to Privacy
    To protect the privacy of U.S. citizens, the Census Bureau does not release specific census data to the public for 72 years. Individual census data from the 1940 census will be made public in 2012. Individual census data from the 2010 census will be made public in 2082.

    Population Center
    The 2010 census made Plato, Missouri, the new mean center of the U.S. population. The mean center is the point where the nation would balance if every one of its 308.7 million residents weighed the same. The previous population center was 23.4 miles to the northeast in Edgar Springs, Missouri. The mean center is slowly moving southwest.

    The population of Plato is 109.

    The U.S. Census counts every resident in the United States. It is required by the United States Constitution to take place every 10 years. The 2010 census found that there are 308,745,538 people in the U.S.

    In order to count and collect information about all those residents, the Census Bureau delivers a 10-question form to every household. This form includes questions about sex, age, race, household relationships, and property ownership. These sets of data are defined as demographic data.

    Census-takers are hired to visit households and gather information from residents who have not returned their census form. Census-takers ensure that a community is represented as accurately as possible.

    Census data is important on both the national and local level. Population counts help determine the number of seats a state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives. This process is called apportionment. Every state is entitled to at least one representative in the House, but as a state’s population grows, the state gains representation.

    Apportionment can change every 10 years. In 2010, the state of New York lost two representatives because of a declining population. The state of Texas, on the other hand, gained four seats. California, the most populous state, retained its 53 representatives in the House. California’s number of representatives stayed the same for the first time in the state’s history.

    Census data also determines how federal funding is distributed across the country. Federal funding is money provided by the national government for such projects and services as hospitals, schools, bridges, job-training centers, and emergency services. An area with a large number of elderly citizens, for example, may qualify for more funding for hospitals and nursing homes. A densely populated urban area may benefit from increased funding for public transportation.

    A wide variety of people and organizations use census data to support research, advocate for causes, and locate specific populations. For example, the Save the Manatee Club petitioned the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to increase its protection of manatees, an endangered species of marine mammal. Using census data, the Save the Manatee Club identified areas with significant construction and development near manatee habitats. The Wildlife Conservation Commission increased its protection of Florida’s at-risk species.

    Residents of a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, pushed for further examination of a proposed power plant in the area. Residents were able to use census data to cite the suburb’s larger population of elderly residents and children, groups that are more susceptible to the facility’s environmental impacts. The power plant was not built.

    The Census Bureau also conducts specific census programs that collect and present detailed sets of data about the United States, its communities, national economy, and geographic boundaries.

    The American Community Survey

    The Census Bureau conducts the American Community Survey (ACS). More detailed than the decennial census, the ACS collects and produces population and housing information every year. The ACS does not count the entire population, but instead samples about 3 million households that represent all counties of the United States and municipios of Puerto Rico.

    The ACS produces demographic, social, economic, and housing data at one-year intervals for geographic areas with a population of 65,000 or more, at three-year intervals for areas with a population of 20,000 or more, and at five-year intervals for those with less than 20,000.

    Data from the American Community Survey is needed to evaluate and manage national, state, and local government programs. Responses to questions about income and housing are used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to assess the need for housing assistance for elderly, handicapped, and low-income homeowners. Federal programs use age information to target funds and services to children, working-age adults, and the elderly. Local governments use ACS data for budgeting and planning community services programs, such as libraries, schools, and facilities such as swimming pools.

    As a whole, the ACS provides up-to-date information that helps all levels of government better understand community issues, accurately target funds for people and projects in need, and measure the performance of programs.

    The Economic Census

    The Census Bureau also conducts the Economic Census. The Economic Census provides a detailed account of the United States’ economy every five years. This census collects data about economic production, business establishments, agricultural production, and government institutions. It also includes statistics on minority- and women-owned businesses.

    Economic Census data is used for a variety of purposes: locating business markets, developing economic policy, evaluating the growth of specific industries, and assisting local businesses. 

    The Economic Census may show that the health care industry is booming, for instance—hiring more doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals. The manufacturing sector, however, may be slowing. These data influence where the government invests in research and job-training facilities.

    The Economic Census assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. economy and provides data that is used to diversify and strengthen business development throughout the country.

    Census Geographic Programs

    The Census Bureau works with tribal, state, county, and local officials, as well as agencies such as regional planning commissions, to accurately define the different geographic units used in the U.S. Census and American Community Survey. These units, such as property tracts and neighborhoods, are constantly changing. Census geographic programs ensure that census and survey data reflect those changes.


    Each geographic program improves the accuracy of census data through distinct functions. The “Local Update of Census Addresses” program invites tribal, state, and local governments to review and comment on the list of addresses the Census Bureau will use to deliver questionnaires. The “Census New Construction Program” requires tribal and local governments to submit mailing addresses for housing units constructed after the Census Bureau address list was updated.

    The “School District Review Program” encourages state officials to provide updates and corrections to the previous year’s school district information. School district information is very important. The number of immigrant students who may need English-language development (ELD) classes, or the number of low-income students who qualify for free meals may change on a yearly basis. English language development and school meal programs are funded by the government.

    Ultimately, various census geographic programs help accurately distribute funding offered by federal, state, and local governments.

    Census Bureau Newsroom

    The U.S. Census Bureau provides news and media agencies with data and special reports. The bureau’s online Newsroom Data Center publishes statistical reports on a variety of topics, including poverty, the foreign-born population, and businesses owned by minorities. The Newsroom aims to communicate census data and its importance in public life with as large of an American audience as possible.

    Special Topics

    The U.S. Census Bureau also publishes collections of data that are connected to recent events, marking them as “Special Topics.” After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the bureau collected data about Haitians living in the United States and Haiti’s own population and demographics. During massive wildfires in Southern California in 2007, the Census Bureau published information about the nation’s growing coastal population to illustrate the importance of emergency planning and preparedness in areas affected by severe weather conditions. These Special Topics aim to increase the public’s awareness and understanding of current events.

    The U.S. Census, along with the bureau’s other census programs, requires a considerable amount of time and resources, as well as a large work force. The end result is large sets of data that tell us about who and what make up our communities, regions, and country as a whole. Ultimately, this data helps people from all walks of life improve the places in which we live, work, and play.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    accurately Adverb

    exactly or perfectly.

    advocate Verb

    to argue in favor of something.

    American Community Survey (ACS) Noun

    analysis that provides detailed population and housing information for the United States every year.

    apportionment Noun

    process of determining the number of seats a state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    assess Verb

    to evaluate or determine the amount of.

    at-risk Adjective

    threatened or in danger.

    bridge Noun

    structure connecting areas otherwise difficult to travel.

    budget Noun

    money, goods, and services set aside for a specific purpose.

    business market Noun

    economic conditions that contribute to the success of buying and selling goods and services.

    census Noun

    program of a nation, state, or other region that counts the population and usually gives its characteristics, such as age and gender.

    Encyclopedic Entry: census
    census-taker Noun

    person who helps administer a census by contacting people directly.

    cite Verb

    to give as an example.

    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    constitution Noun

    system of ideas and general laws that guide a nation, state, or other organization.

    data Plural Noun

    (singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.

    decennial Adjective

    taking place every 10 years.

    demographic Adjective

    having to do with the social characteristics and statistics of a population.

    densely Adverb

    heavily or crowded.

    Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Noun

    government agency with the mission "to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all."

    determine Verb

    to decide.

    development Noun

    construction or preparation of land for housing, industry, or agriculture.

    distribute Verb

    to divide and spread out materials.

    earthquake Noun

    the sudden shaking of Earth's crust caused by the release of energy along fault lines or from volcanic activity.

    Economic Census Noun

    analysis that provides a detailed account of the United States economy, produced every five years.

    economic policy Noun

    actions a government takes that concern money and finances.

    economy Noun

    system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

    elderly Adjective

    old.

    emergency planning Noun

    process of preparing for a disaster.

    endangered species Noun

    organism threatened with extinction.

    Encyclopedic Entry: endangered species
    English-language development (ELD) Noun

    process of learning English by those fluent in another language.

    ensure Verb

    to guarantee.

    environmental impact Noun

    incident or activity's total effect on the surrounding environment.

    evaluate Verb

    to decide something's worth.

    federal Adjective

    having to do with a country's government.

    geographic Adjective

    having to do with places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    health care Noun

    system for addressing the physical health of a population.

    hospital Noun

    institution for taking care of sick or injured people.

    House of Representatives Noun

    federal branch of Congress in the United States, with state representatives elected every two years.

    immigrant Noun

    person who moves to a new country or region.

    interval Noun

    time period between events or activities.

    low-income Adjective

    not wealthy or earning little money.

    manatee Noun

    threatened marine mammal native to the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

    manufacturing Noun

    production of goods or products in a factory.

    marine mammal Noun

    an animal that lives most of its life in the ocean but breathes air and gives birth to live young, such as whales and seals.

    market Noun

    central place for the sale of goods.

    massive Adjective

    very large or heavy.

    media Noun

    means of mass communication, such as television or the Internet. Singular: medium.

    municipio Noun

    unit of local government in Puerto Rico. Also called a municipality.

    neighborhood Noun

    an area within a larger city or town where people live and interact with one another.

    Encyclopedic Entry: neighborhood
    nursing home Noun

    health-care facility that helps care for disabled and elderly people.

    petition Verb

    to request, often by a form signed by the requestors.

    planning commission Noun

    group of appointed or elected officials who make decisions about construction and other development in a community.

    policy Noun

    set of actions or rules.

    population Noun

    total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

    poverty Noun

    status of having very little money or material goods.

    power plant Noun

    industrial facility for the generation of electric energy.

    property Noun

    goods or materials (including land) owned by someone.

    public transportation Noun

    methods of movement that are available to all community members for a fee, and which follow a fixed route and schedule: buses, subways, trains and ferries.

    publish Verb

    to provide a written piece of work, such as a book or newspaper, for sale or distribution.

    questionnaire Noun

    short list of specific questions, whose replies can be used in research.

    race Noun

    arbitrary grouping of people based on genetics and physical characteristics.

    research Noun

    scientific observations and investigation into a subject, usually following the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis, and conclusion.

    school district Noun

    geographic area whose schools are managed by one administration.

    sex Noun

    male or female: division into which sexually reproducing organisms are divided.

    significant Adjective

    important or impressive.

    specific Adjective

    exact or precise.

    state Noun

    political unit in a nation, such as the United States, Mexico, or Australia.

    suburb Noun

    geographic area, mostly residential, just outside the borders of an urban area.

    susceptible Adjective

    able to be influenced to behave a certain way.

    urban area Noun

    developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

    Encyclopedic Entry: urban area
    U.S. Census Noun

    count of everyone in the U.S., conducted every 10 years.

    Encyclopedic Entry: U.S. Census
    weather Noun

    state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.

    Encyclopedic Entry: weather
    wildfire Noun

    uncontrolled fire that happens in a rural or sparsely populated area.

    work force Noun

    number of people who are employed or available for employment.

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