2019 U.S. constitution Day – The Constitution of the United States & The Census – by Andrew Bailey. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
There are a few items I carry on me at all times and my pocket Constitution of the United States is usually an item you can find with me. This document has such a rich history and establishes the most powerful government in our modern world. Delegates from across a young nation gathered to chart a path in history in the year 1787. Although their endeavor had much uncertainty, they have left us with a relatively stable future. The Constitution outlines the fundamental functions and responsibilities of our three branch federal government–and it may be argued many of these functions are still up for interpretation today. One example of a responsibility delegated to the Congress, which has seen much change in operation over the years, has been the execution of the Decennial Census of Population & Housing.
Article I, Section 2 of The Constitution of the United States charges the U.S. Congress with the authority to determine how the Census will be conducted, and defines the political purpose of the Census – apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives among the states. The first Census was conducted in 1790 and President George Washington gave a report to Congress in October of the following year. With this information, Congress was able to apportion representation of each state accordingly in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Since the year 1790, the United States has conducted a Census every ten years, and the U.S. still has the claim for world’s longest-running continuous national census. Simply put, the objective of the Census Bureau is to count all residents of the United States and to attach each person to a place–an address or facility.1 However, this is easier said than done in the 21st Century, when a resident of the United States and the state of Minnesota can hop on a plane at 7:00 AM and be in Maine by lunch time, or for that matter, be out of the country in less than a handful of hours. One of the challenges the U.S. Census Bureau faces is a globalized world, in which people travel, migrate, and an individual may even have more than one place of residence.
To alleviate the concern of sharing personal information with the federal government, the United States Census Bureau has a strict policy on what information is aggregated and no private information is shared with the public. Title 1 of the United States Code ensures the confidentiality of Census records, and establishes penalties for violating the law; furthermore, all Census data is sealed and secured for 72 years. It is worth noting that in 1790, all information gathered from the Census was posted in public, so the collected data could be made available and residents would be able to ensure the information collected was accurate.
Today, the Congress and the Census Bureau is at liberty to ask additional questions besides the number of residents at a given unit. However, in conducting the Census, the secretary of commerce must report to Congress no later than three years before Census day, the subject matters that will be included in the next Census, and no later than two years before each Census, the secretary must report the questions that will be included on the Census form.1 The Census also counts residents of the United States regardless of their citizenship status. In completing the Census and reaching a final count, the number of the U.S. population must be reported to the president by December 31st of the given year the Census is conducted.
Today, it is common for most countries in the world to conduct a census and specific guidelines are offered by the United Nations on how a census should be conducted. A few of these guidelines include: individual enumeration (people are counted as individuals), universality (all people are counted), defined territory (all people in a defined territory must be counted), and publication (results must be compiled and published by the Census Bureau in the United States).
The Decennial Census is a massive undertaking and to be successful, it requires the support from the entire American public. The 2010 Census was conducted through almost 500 local Census offices that supervised the work of several hundred thousand field enumerators.1 Not only does executing the Census take a lot of coordination, it is also very expensive. The cost of the 2010 Census was about 40 percent higher than the census of 2000 and it is estimated the 2020 Census could cost as much as $25 billion.
Although the Decennial Census is an arduous process (and often a political one), it is important to keep in mind by administering the Census, Congress is only acting out its duty as written in the Constitution. The Census Bureau on the whole is a hard working group of public servants, and they rely heavily on the public for cooperation and good spirit. You can learn more about the 2020 Decennial Census by visiting: https://www.census.gov/partners/2020.html.
1. Anderson, M. J., Citro, C. F., & Salvo, J. J. (2013). Encyclopedia of the U.S. Census: from the Constitution to the American Community Survey (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: CQ Press.
2. Article I, Section 2 of The Constitution of the United States
3. Lavin, M. R. (1996). Understanding the Census A Guide for Marketers, Planners, Grant Writers and Other Data Users. Kenmore, NY: Epoch Book.
4. United Nations Statistics Division – Demographic and Social Statistics. (2017). Retrieved from https://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/sources/census/census3.htm
Andrew serves as an assistant editor for NSR. He is also the president of the St. Scholastica Student Senate. Andrew is leading the college’s celebration of the 2019 U.S. Constitution Day.
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Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Ellie Swanson and Marin Ekstrom, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.
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