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Top Ten Interesting Facts about the US Census

The US census is a once-in-a-decade event. GenealogyInTime Magazine has compiled a list of the top ten interesting facts about US censuses:

1. The census is the US government’s largest peacetime operation. At its peak for the 2010 census, more than one million census workers counted roughly 310 million people in some 120 million households. This works out to 1 census worker for every 310 residents.

By comparison, the 1900 census required 53,000 census workers to count an average of 1,400 residents each. Not surprisingly, the cost of each census keeps increasing and the 2010 census cost a staggering $15 billion. This works out to about $50 to count every man, woman and child in the nation, which makes census data very expensive to collect.

The other major problem with a traditional once-in-a-decade census is that it is out of date the day after the census is taken as people are born, die and move every day. Other countries facing the same issues have considered alternatives, including possibly switching to real-time databases (see UK Considers Scrapping the Census).

2. Since the first US census in 1790, certain segments of the population have been consistently underreported (see Does the US Census Underreport). In particular, the poor, the transient and illegal immigrants are difficult to track down. They also often have a vested interest in avoiding the watchful eye of the government. The 2010 census was particularly challenging in this regard as the deep US recession has increased the number of people living in garages, basements, tents and motels. The numbers of displaced people are both staggering and unprecedented. One in nine US households were either behind in their mortgage payments or have already defaulted. These people were difficult to find as many are no longer lived at their previous address.

3. Traditionally, various agencies of the US government have backed away from aggressively pursuing and deporting illegal immigrants ahead of the official census count day. The Census Bureau allocated an additional $250 million for the 2010 census for advertising and outreach programs to help boost participation rates in the traditionally underreported groups. As well, more than one thousand national and local groups have partnered with the Census Bureau in an attempt to better reach the underserved segments of the population.

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