The Census

US ConstitutionDid you know that the need for a Census is written into the Constitution?

The Framers of the US Constitution decided that population would be the deciding factor for sharing political power. Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution states:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several Sates which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers...

The amount of people in each state decides how many representatives that state gets in the House of Representatives. Larger population states, like California, get more representatives than smaller population states like Wyoming. 

Read more: Census in the Constitution


The goal of the Census is to count the entire population of the country at the location where each person usually lives. The census asks questions of people in homes or group living situations. The questions include how many people live or stay in the home, and the sex, age, and race of each person. 

The Census not only shows the change in population of the country, but also reflects the cultural and societal values of the country .

The First Census

1790 Census TableThe first Census was conducted in 1790. It was managed under the supervision of Thomas Jefferson, who was the Secretary of State at the time. The photo to the left is of a 1790 Census schedule.

There were six questions included on the first Census. They asked for the name of the head of the family and the number of people in each household of the following descriptions:

  • Free White male of 16 years and upward
  • Free White male under 16 years
  • Free White females
  • All other free persons
  • Slaves

The first Census counted 3.9 million inhabitants, which ended up raising the membership in the House of Representatives from its original 65 to 105.

Unlike today, records from the 1790 to 1870 census were public record and were not protected. In fact, the records from the Census were posted in central locations in communities for public viewing. Census records were made confidential in the Census Act of 1879. Records from the Census are confidential for 72 years, so currently only records from 1790-1940 are available. Those records are maintained by the National Archives and Record Administration.

Image: 1790 Census Schedule, Image Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

The Last Census (2010)

The last Census took place in 2010. It counted a U.S. population of 308.7 million people and 435 people serving in the House of Representatives. April 1 was the official enumeration day. The Census cost a total of $12.9 billion dollars to complete.

There were ten questions asked in the 2010 census:

  1. How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?
  2. Were there any additional people staying here April 1, 2010 that you did not include in Question 1?
  3. Is this house, apartment, or mobile home: owned with mortgage, owned without mortgage, rented, occupied without rent?
  4. What is your telephone number?
  5. Please provide information for each person living here. Start with a person here who owns or rents this house, apartment, or mobile home. If the owner or renter lives somewhere else, start with any adult living here. This will be Person 1. What is Person 1's name?
  6. What is Person 1's sex?
  7. What is Person 1's age and Date of Birth?
  8. Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?
  9. What is Person 1's race?
  10. Does Person 1 sometimes live or stay somewhere else?

According to the Census's Bureau's Our Census page, the 2010 Census saw the largest amount of participation since the Census began.