Every ten years, the United States government spends a lot of time and money$6.5 billion in 2000 alonegathering information about you, your family, and the more than 290,000,000 people who live in the United States. It does this through something called the Census.
Established by Article I, Section II of the U.S. Constitution, the first Census, taken in 1790, counted free white males age 16 and older, free white males under 16, free white females, all other free persons, and slaves. Today, the U.S. Census Bureau places forms in the mail and on the Internet and conducts home visits, asking questions regarding individuals' age, sex, race, national origin, level of education, occupation, and the number of people who live in the residence.
Why do you think the U.S. government cares so much about having this information? The official purpose of the Census is to count everyone for congressional representation. Though every state has two senators, the number of representatives a state has in Congress is based on that state's population. According to the 2000 Census, the state with the smallest population is Wyoming, while the state with the largest population is California. Wyoming can send only one person to the House of Representatives, but California can send 53 people.
The Census also serves as an invaluable source of information for government officials, businesses, journalists, researchers, students, and citizens alike. If a town has more children living in it than it had ten years ago, government officials might decide to build another school. Knowing that the Hispanic population is growing faster than any other minority, businesses can better plan for this market.
In addition, the amount of money allotted to many federally funded government programs depends on populations. These programs include the National School Lunch Program, Community Development Block Grants, public housing, job training, Title I Education Grants, and Head Start.
Genealogists, people who study family histories, eagerly comb through Census data dating back to the first records, hoping to find valuable information on their ancestors.
Finally, the Census establishes a permanent historical record that details where we have been and where we are and can help us predict where we are going. By understanding the population and economic and social trends, we can make better decisionsnow and in the future.