The Census is Here

After years of planning and testing, the 2010 Census is now under way. The U.S. Constitution requires this national count of everyone living in the United States every 10 years. For Latinos, the census is especially important. The 2000 Census reported a dramatic increase in Latinos from the previous census, indicating that there were 35 million living in the U.S. at that time. The latest estimates place the Latino population now at over 45 million, a 29 percent increase this decade. Next year’s count will give us a new snapshot on this growing community and indeed of the whole nation.

Census data are used to apportion the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives and for state and local redistricting. The information is also used to determine how to allocate more than $300 billion in funds annually for community programs and services, such as education, housing and community development, health care services for the elderly, job training and more. State, tribal and local governments use census data for planning and allocating funds for new school construction, libraries and other public buildings, highway safety and public transportation systems, new roads and bridges, location of police and fire departments, and many other projects. The numbers help the private sector identify where to locate factories, shopping centers, movie theaters, banks and offices---activities that often lead to new jobs. In short, census data help both the public and private sector make informed decisions.

There are 150 local census offices and later this year the Census Bureau will be increasing the number of them to almost 500 nationwide and in Puerto Rico. Additionally, in late fall we will begin recruitment efforts for next year’s operations. This massive, domestic operation is truly a civic activity. Approximately 1.4 million people from all walks of life and communities will need to be hired to conduct the census. In preparation to mail out 120 million questionnaires in mid-March next year, the Census Bureau is currently conducting its first major field operation known as address canvassing. About 140,000 census personnel are working nationwide and in Puerto Rico updating the Bureau’s master address list so that the 2010 Census questionnaires arrive at the right place.

A key 2010 Census improvement will be the use of a short form only questionnaire, asking just a few questions for each person such as: Name, gender, age, race, ethnicity and relationship. The questionnaire does not ask for social security numbers or the immigration status of the respondents. Also, for the first time in history, 13 million bilingual, English/Spanish questionnaires will be mailed out to neighborhoods where Spanish is more predominant. The questionnaire will also be available in Chinese (simplified), Korean, Vietnamese and Russian, upon request. For a typical household, it will take approximately 10 minutes to complete the questionnaire.

All information collected by the census is protected under strict confidentiality laws. The Census Bureau does not release any individually identifiable information to any other government agency or entity. Census Bureau employees who disclose respondent information may be removed, fined up to $250,000 and /or jailed for up to five years.

A key aspect of next year’s census will be a comprehensive and integrated communications campaign consisting of paid advertising in 14 languages in print, radio, television and online, an extensive partnership program, a Census in Schools program and online resources. The partnership program is particularly important because census will partner, with major corporations, community organizations or churches, to serve as trusted third party voices in their community who can raise awareness about the importance of the 2010 Census. The main goals of the communications effort are to inform the population about the importance of the 2010 Census and motivate households to complete and mail back the questionnaire. Particular emphasis will be made to reach hard-to-count populations, such as minority groups, newer immigrants and those less knowledgeable about the importance of the census. Also, because of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama earlier this year, the Census Bureau will have additional funds for the communications campaign and to hire an additional 2,000 partnership support staff.

The Census Bureau and its dedicated staff of professionals are ready to undertake the 2010 Census. It does not matter how hard it is to conduct the census. What matters is that we count everyone once, in the right place and at the right time. To learn more about the 2010 Census, visit

Marilia Matos is the Census Bureau’s associate director for field operations.