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The Evolution of the Decennial Census

The classic publication to learn about the history of the US Census and trace the questions asked through time is Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000. I refer to this frequently when teaching students about the census. But check out this incredibly handy visual look at the history of the US census that traces which questions were asked for each census. This nicely illustrates the problem with, for example, asking about the number of Latinos or Chinese in the US from 1800 – present. The Census is a snapshot in time and reflects the legislative and political contexts of that time. Enjoy the viz!

The census is an essential part of American democracy. The United States counts its population every ten years to determine how many seats each state should have in Congress. Census data have also been used to levy taxes and distribute funds, estimate the country’s military strength, assess needs for social programs, measure population density, conduct statistical analysis of longitudinal trends, and make business planning decisions.

We looked at every question on every census from 1790 to 2020. The questions—over 600 in total—tell us a lot about the country’s priorities, norms, and biases in each decade. They depict an evolving country: a modernizing economy, a diversifying population, an imperfect but expanding set of civil and human rights, and a growing list of armed conflicts in its memory. What themes and trends will you notice?


via The Evolution of the American Census.

538’s Gerrymandering Project takes a deep dive into redistricting and US politics

Check out 538’s Gerrymandering Project. It’s an exploration into the history, complex issues, and reform ideas surrounding the process of redistricting of the US political map (Constitutionally mandated to be done every 10 years) and gerrymandering, or redrawing political district lines in a partisan, political way. The site includes an amazingly thorough Atlas of Redistricting, several articles, and a six-part audio documentary series that examines how four states — Wisconsin, North Carolina, Arizona and California — are dealing with very different districting challenges. And if you want the Cliffs Notes version, check out the 99% Invisible podcast episode which interviewed the 538 creators and explained the project and the issues surrounding gerrymandering.

Republicans Seek to Force a Census Undercount

We’ve been hearing about problems with the 2020 census for quite some time. For those interested, the Census Project, an organization that “supports a fair and accurate 2020 Census and comprehensive American Community Survey,” has a ton of good information. This latest article by DCReport “Republicans Seek to Force a Census Undercount” has a goodly number of links all in one place to what is happening with the census. And they recommend calling or writing Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to tell him we want a census that counts everyone. Ross’ contact info is:


U.S. Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Ave. NW

Washington, D.C. 20230

Trump and the Republicans have sabotaged how ready our country is for the 2020 U.S. Census. They want to intimidate undocumented immigrants and other people who aren’t citizens from participating in the once-a-decade count that is used to assign seats in the House of Representatives and to determine who gets more than $675 billion in federal funds each year.

Trump’s Justice Department has proposed asking about citizenship on the census, a question that hasn’t been asked on the census in seven decades. Democrats fear this will lead to immigrants who are afraid of deportation not being counted and Democratic states like California losing representatives.

“It’s pretty obvious to me that the Trump administration intends to politicize this process,” said Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin. “Everything I see here suggests to me that they don’t really want a good count in states like ours.”

via Republicans Seek to Force a Census Undercount – DCReport.org.

Census Reduces Data for Mid-Sized Places


Here is a story about how diminishing Census data will affect rural areas in the United States. The story describes the effects of the Census Bureau’s cut to the American Community Survey. It says that, for nearly a third of U.S. counties it will mean “getting a murkier picture of their people and economies.” The change, prompted by budget cuts, will go into effect for the expected 2012 to 2014 estimates.

  • Census Reduces Data for Mid-Sized Places, By Robert Scardamalia, The Daily Yonder (03/16/2015).

    The change will affect places that have a population of 20,000 to 64,999 residents. That’s one third of U.S. counties, 39 million Americans, or 12.2 percent of the U.S. population. The change will also affect smaller geographic places – cities, villages and Census Designated Places in that population range. That amounts to 55 million residents or 17.5 percent of the U.S. population. These communities will now get data that covers five-year periods instead of three years. That change can make a big difference.

New features at Census

The Census Burear reports that it has improved its search engine and is providing a new version of “QuickFacts.”

Recently, we rolled out two exciting new features on Census.gov — a better search engine and a new version of QuickFacts.

Our new “smart search” not only provides the statistics you are looking for directly on the search page, but also shows visualizations of popular search topics and links to related information. You can now get statistics from multiple Census Bureau data sources on popular topics such as income, poverty and population.

Our search function now also includes NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) codes, making business information easier to access.

Based on customer feedback, we’ve also released a completely reimagined QuickFacts site, available in beta at www.census.gov/quickfacts. Prior to this revamp, the QuickFacts application had been virtually unchanged since its launch in 2000. This new version maintains the original ease of use but also includes many improvements, like fully interactive, customized tables that let you view statistics for up to six locations side by side. Want to view data on a map instead of a table? Now you can.

We’ve also added charting, social media sharing, and type-ahead search.