The history of the United States census [pdf] dates back to 1790 when federal marshals went door to door and recorded the name of the head of the household as well as the number of residents living in the house. The first census counted 3.9 million people - fewer than half the population of New York City today.
Since then, the census has turned into a massive undertaking requiring the help of thousands of American citizens. The census forms will be mailed in March. In May, census takers begin visiting households that did not return the questionnaire by mail to ask the questions in person.
In 2010, the Census Bureau launched a nationwide effort called 'It's In Our Hands' to simplify the process for the public and encourage participation. Census officials have narrowed the form down to 10 simple demographic questions that can be answered in an average of 10 minutes.
With all the controversy surrounding the issue of privacy, many concerned citizens are wary about returning the census form. But laws are in place specifically for this purpose. Information collected for the census is used for statistical purposes only. Census Bureau employees, including temporary employees, swear under oath not to disclose information gathered by the agency. Breaking this oath can result in up to 5 years in prison or a hefty fine.
Also, individual census data (the individual household) is kept confidential by the Census Bureau for 72 years before it is released to the general public.
So why all the hubbub over 10 little questions? This decennial event actually has a significant impact on the infrastructure of our country. It isn't simply a count of the population. The data from the census is used for:
Not returning your census form is punishable by law, but the Census Bureau views this as a last resort. Be sure to do your part. When you receive your census form in the mail this March, take 10 minutes to answer 10 short questions that will help guide the United States into the future. It's in our hands!