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Today is Census Day!

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Our guest author today is Ellen Terrell, Business Reference Specialist.

Taking census, 1920
Taking census, 1920

Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States states:

“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.”

These are the words that empower the Census Bureau every 10 years to collect a census of the population of the United States.  The founding fathers considered the census “a tool of political empowerment for the governed over their government.”

This is the year of the 2010 Census and it is our 23rd. Census just issued a special Fact for Features Census Historical Highlights 1790-2010 with a lot of interesting tidbits if you want to know more about it’s history. One thing I didn’t know is that Census Day – the official date of the Census – has changed over time. In 1790 it was August 2nd but it moved to April 1st for the 1930 Census.

Some ask why this is important.

First and most importantly, as the Census Bureau states, “Census information affects the numbers of seats your state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Additionally, the information the census collects helps to determine how much federal funding is spent each year on infrastructure and services like schools, hospitals, etc. An interesting statistic mentioned in a Census class I recently attended is that on average a state will lose approximately $2,000 for each person who does not return the form. If you want to know more about this topic, the Brookings Institute published a “Counting for Dollars: The Role of the Decennial Census in the Distribution of Federal Funds” in March 2010.

Those of us in Business Reference use the decennial Census data for all sorts of questions asked by researchers that visit our reading room or submit questions through our Ask a Librarian online service. This is such a popular area of interest that one of our staff members has created a web tutorial Finding Census Data for Business Research as well as a guide Locating U.S. Census Publications in the Library of Congress.

The forms were sent out to households the middle of March. If you would like more information about the questions asked on the form, the Census Bureau has an interactive webpage available that will provide additional information on each question. If you still have questions, there are Questionnaire Assistance Centers available to help. Additional information may be found on the Census 2010 site.


  1. Thanks for emphasizing the importance of the census. The more this is publicized, the more participation we’ll get.

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