Inside the U.S. Census Bureau Part 3: Who does the Work and How?

About the United States Census Bureau, how the count is done, who are census takers, what is the CPS?

Inside the Census Bureau: 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . and Counting . . .

Who does the work? For the 1790 census, 650 U.S. marshals were used. Today, the "o" census is handled by 4,400 Census Bureau employees assisted by 160,000 part-time workers. In the 1970 census, the field work was eased by sending out the basic forms in the mails. Some 41,200,000 households received the question-naires, and an amazing 87% sent the marked forms back. This huge response permitted the Bureau's workers to concentrate on the people who either gave partial answers or none at all.

Who's that knocking at my door? Under Section 5, Title 13, of the U.S. Code, the Secretary of Commerce has the authority to make up the schedules with the questions that gather in the statistics. The Code sets a fine of up to $100 or 60 days in jail for anyone over 18 who refuses to answer or willfully neglects to give information for the census. The penalties are raised to $500 and a year in jail for anyone who knowingly gives a false reply. Rarely are these punishments invoked, however. In 1960 only 2 cases were taken to court for imposition of nominal fines.

The citizen must answer 7 basic questions:

Name and address




Relationship to head of household

Marital status

Visitors in the home when census is taken

In the 1970 census, the largest number of questions that anyone had to answer was 20, all dealing with the types of housing in which the citizen was living (number of rooms, type of plumbing, etc.). There were 50 other questions, posed to specific individuals according to a random sampling plan. Another question--"What is your social security number?"--had been considered for the 1970 census but was dropped because of objections that its inclusion would allow information on other records to be found and added to the census data. Opponents of the question claimed that it violated the confidentiality of the census and bordered on "invasion of privacy" of the individual.

Who's that knocking at my door--again? Ranking high in importance, for its immediate effect on Government policy, is the Bureau's mini-census called the "Current Population Survey." It is scheduled for the 19th day of the month, year around, to gather statistics on unemployment. Budget billions are spent--or not spent--depending on whether the unemployment rate goes up or down, from month to month.

The "CPS" is carried out by sampling techniques. A 52,500-household sample (about 105,000 people) is drawn from the 1,913 "primary sampling units," or PSUs, into which the entire U.S. has been divided. The PSUs are further split into 357 "strata sets," where each set has traits that are as alike as possible (same geographic area, same % of nonwhite, etc.).

A total of 449 sample areas is then chosen, automatically including each of the 107 largest metropolitan areas. From the 449, the Bureau selects, at random, smaller units called the ED, for "enumeration district." These EDs are of a size just large enough to be handled by a single census taker. To assure that the EDs represent the PSU as a whole, they are picked from a master ED list where the arrangement is set up geographically. For that final reduction to limit the sample size to the 52,500 figure, approximately 6 households in each ED are chosen. The monthly information is collected by about 1,000 interviewers.

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