The U.S. Constitution requires a census every 10 years to determine how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives. Community leaders also use the census to assess the need for new schools, roads, and services.
Important Census Dates
- Spring 2009: Census employees went door-to-door nationwide to update address list
- Fall 2009: Recruitment begins for census takers
- February 2009 - March 2010: Census questionnaires mailed or delivered to households
- April 1, 2010: Census Day- questionnaires will be answered according to the data from this day
- April - July 2010: Census takers visit households that did not return a questionnaire by mail
- December 2010: The Census Bureau delivers population counts to the president for apportionment
- March 2011: Census Bureau completes delivery of redistricting data to states
How Big Is the U.S. Census?
- there are more than 307 million U.S. residents
- there are approximately 145 million housing units in the U.S.
- in Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories, there are about 1.5 million housing units
- more than 20 million maps are needed for field work to complete the census
- 40 to 70 million questionnaires are expected to be returned during the peak two-week reply period
What's on the Census Form?
The short form asks ten questions and takes approximately ten minutes to complete. For the first time, all households will receive the short form.
In the past, a long form was submitted to 17% of households. This form covered more than 30 areas, including education, ancestry, employment, disability, and questions about home heating fuel. The questions included in the long form are now collected by the American Community Survey, which is part of the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey is distributed to a small population of Americans each year instead of once every ten years. The survey takes about 38 minutes to complete and is distributed to the same household no more than once every five years.
Answering the Census Is Important
Taking part in the census is in everyone's best interest. People who answer the census help their communities obtain federal funding and valuable information for planning hospitals, roads, and other services. Census information helps decision-makers understand which neighborhoods need new schools and which need greater services for the elderly.
Answering the census creates jobs and ensures the delivery of goods and services. Businesses use census numbers to locate new sites for supermarkets and shopping centers, housing, factories and offices, and facilities such as movie theaters and restaurants.
The Law Protects Your Answers
By law, the Census Bureau cannot share your answers with the IRS, FBI, or any government agency or court. The same law also prevents the Census Bureau from selling or giving away your address to people or businesses who may want to contact you for marketing or sales purposes.
Changes to the 2010 Census
Bilingual questionnaires will be sent in English and Spanish to about 13 million households in areas that have a high concentration of Hispanics. This initiative will be implemented to improve the overall rate of census returns in areas in which English is a second language.
The Census Bureau will send second-chance cards to households that fail to answers the census between February and March. The reminder will be sent with another census form, which is intended to reduce the need for census workers to visit non-returning households another time.
Married same-sex couples will now be counted on the census. In 2000, same-sex marriage was not legal; today same-sex couples can get married in six states. Though it will be easy to count the 35,000 same-sex married couples on the census form, the Census Bureau must still determine how to count same-sex unmarried couples. More than 3 million same-sex couples considered themselves married in 2000.
Read this Census Bureau PDF for more information about the 2010 Census.