April 1, 2020, was known as U.S. Census day – the day American’s count their population. The census has dated all the way back to the creation of this Nation. The Founding Fathers recognized the need to enumerate the population since the creation of the nation. Article I of the Constitution determines that taxes should be based on the state’s population, thus the population was to be counted “…within every subsequent Term of ten Years…”. This provision became obsolete with the 16th Amendment which provided for a national tax based on income. However, the use of the Census to determine representation in Congress remains of crucial importance. The Census has played a key role in United States history. After World War I, Americans were returning to their pre-war factory jobs – a time when factory products were seeing a reduced demand relative to wartime production. Jobs were at a premium, so Americans were angered when immigrants from Europe arrived, taking American jobs by working for lower wages. To combat this, the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924 were enacted. Both tried to restrict immigration by lowering the immigrant population allowed to arrive each year. The goal was to keep the total population of various immigrant groups below a certain threshold, as established by the census. Counting the people living in the United States runs deep down to America’s origins.
Completing the census has value for every American. The census not only determines population, it determines population by region. The United States government uses these numbers to allocate funds for Federal Government programs and restructuring congressional districts.
Traditionally the census was conducted on paper, with each home receiving a paper slip to fill out and send back to the United States government. In 2010, each comprehensive census application was 6 pages long, per household. In addition to mailing costs, census takers were employed to visit households, and people were needed to process the data. The United States government spent $11.5 billion in taxpayer money to count the population. While this system costs a lot of money and produces a fair amount of pollution caused by deforestation, it does leave a paper trail to ensure no mistakes are made.
This year’s 2020 census is different as it will be conducted online and it is a less comprehensive. Previous years asked personal questions about marital status, fertility, language, ancestry, occupation, previous disabilities, and health coverage. This year’s census was less comprehensive, asking only questions about individuals and their relationship with the homeowner. The government still collects more information via the Census’s secondary, year-round survey titled “The American Community Survey.” This collects socio-economic data about people in America (this survey is also required under Title 13 of the United States codes). This move to internet-based surveys is beneficial for the government with less of an operating cost and better for nature with less trees being cut down for paper. This change was made at the perfect time. This method would not have been well executed 10 years ago when the infastructure was still developing. According to a Pew Research Poll, only 76% of Americans were internet users during this time. There was not as much access as there is now.
Even more significant, this year’s 2020 census created controversy. President Trump in 2018 asserted that the United States Census should to include a question about citizenship – specifically whether the individuals were citizens. Although this question had been asked in some previous census, immigrants feared this, because they were worried about potential deportation, especially because the year prior the President had rolled back protection for Mexican Immigrants. The debate went all the way up to the Supreme Court. The court ruled that the federal government must provide a reason for the question being included. This justification was not provided in time to meet the census deadline. The Supreme Court has not made a firm decision, so the question just was not included in this year’s census. Depending on the political situation 10 years from now, expect future debate about this issue when the 2030 census is finalized.