The United States Census of 2020 will mark the federal government’s 24th attempt to count each person living in the United States.
Governments have attempted to count their citizens throughout the course of history. The Roman Empire tallied its population every five years to determine taxes; the Egyptians did so to determine men’s fitness for military service. The Incan Empire was known for its accurate population tallies, numbers recorded by tied knots on quipuis, ropes made from llama or alpaca hair.
The U.S., however, was the first country to utilize the census as a tool for representative democracy.
Every ten years, when the U.S. government counts the population, it does so to determine the number of seats each state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as how to draw voter districts.
The census is also an important determinant in how the federal government distributes money to local communities for schools, roads, healthcare, emergency response and more. Local governments utilize census data for long-term planning; businesses do so to determine where to open new stores and factories.
The first U.S. census was conducted by marshals of judicial districts in 1790. The census included just six questions, one of which asked the head of household how many slaves he owned. Only three out of every five slaves were counted for legislative representation, the famous three-fifths compromise.
It was not until 60 years later that the federal government attempted to record every woman, child and slave in the country. American Indians were not included until 1860. And until 1960, it was normal for census-takers to determine the race of the people they counted.
The exclusion of minorities from the U.S. census, as well as the language used to describe them, has reflected the country’s ever-changing concepts of race throughout history. For example, from 1850 to 1930, the census attempted to identify how much African ancestry people had by asking whether individuals were “black,” “mulatto,” “quadroon” or “octaroon.”
The 1890 census marked the first use of tabulating machines, reducing the time required to process results from eight years to six.
And in 1920, the U.S. population exceeded 100 million for the first time. The 1920 census also marked the country’s migration from rural to urban areas, the majority of residents living in cities.
In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau returned to a short-form census with the hope of reaching more people. Questions about jobs and education are now found in the annual American Community Survey.
In the coming months, the census bureau will attempt to reach about 330 million people dwelling in more than 140 million housing units. Citizens, non-citizen legal residents, long-term visitors and undocumented immigrants will all be included in the count.
The 2020 census will ask about age, sex, race, ethnicity and housing. The questionnaire will not include a question on citizenship as proposed by the Trump administration in 2018; the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the proposal last summer.
This year also marks the first time the census has been offered online. Satellite and aerial imagery will be used to verify addresses and a phone application called ECaSE will personalize census-takers routes based on their availability, what language they speak and other factors. The census bureau expects to hire about half as many people as it did in 2010 as a result.
Lake County residents can expect to receive a census invitation via mail in March. Local census-takers will hold electronic devices with the census logo and identification card; they will not ask for bank account information or social security numbers.
The census is a fundamental part of American democracy. Represent Lake County and participate!