Since 1790, the has been much more than a simple head count.
It has charted the growth and composition of our nation, and its questions have evolved over time to address our changing needs.
Today, the Decennial Census, the Economic Census and the American Community Survey (ACS) give Congress and community leaders the information they need to make informed decisions that shape our communities and our nation. They tell us how we know how our country is doing.
Here are just a few stats about the growth of America to consider on July 4th, the nation's birthday:
- In 1800, the Census began tallying free white females in several age categories. Indians, slaves and free black people remained listed in single categories and not divided into age groups.
- In 1830, Congress adds questions about disabilities, including deafness and blindness. Today, the American Community Survey collects these data. This is also the first time a printed, standardized form is used to collect Census data.
- In 1850, the Census begins recording the names of each free household member as well as places of birth, deaths and value of real estate. Congress creates a Census board to oversee the running of the decennial count.
- In 1870, questions about having a mother or father born in a foreign country are introduced. Chinese and American Indian race categories are added. Other questions reflect the recent passage of the 14th Amendment: determining which male citizens were 21 and older and whether their right to vote would be denied for any reason.
- In 1880, marital status (single, married, widowed, divorced) and the number of months unemployed are added. Census takes death counts from registration records in large cities, relieving enumerators of this responsibility. The number of questions expanded greatly and it took nearly a decade to process the results.
- In 1970, the long-form questionnaire is reduced from 66 to 23 questions. A question about Hispanic origin is added and instructions in Spanish are distributed for the first time. The Census Bureau expands the use of mail-out and allows respondents to mail-back forms.
- In 2010, the American Community Survey five-year estimates are released for the first time, as are tabulations on same-sex couples.
And just how many people are in the U.S.: The latest Census Clock reading puts the tally at 313,871,193. In the world: 7,023,971,198.