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CensusScope is a product of the Social Science Data Analysis Network.
All of the data used on CensusScope is obtained from U.S. censuses. Taken every ten years, the census is the most comprehensive source for
these types of statistics because it is charged by the U.S. Constitution to count every resident of the United States. Its immediate purpose is for apportioning
congressional representatives every ten years. The first census was conducted in 1790. Census 2000 marks the 22nd census in the nation's history.
Although the official purpose of the Census is to count everyone for the purpose of congressional representation, its broader significance
involves more than just "counting people". The Census also serves as an invaluable source of information for businesses, journalists, researchers, students, and
citizens alike. Due to the vast variety of social, economic and housing information it collects, it is useful for planning by government at all levels, and provides
a ten-year "benchmark" of many aspects of the nation's population.
The wide range of statistics collected by the decennial census is especially useful in social science research. This because this information is
collected for a large number of people. This means that detailed social and economic information can be gathered for tiny population subgroups and small geographic
areas. Unlike small surveys, the census information is rarely limited by having "too few observations" to be statistically representative.
An endeavor of the Census' magnitude does not come up without expense however. Census 2000 cost approximately $6.5 billion, or $56 per housing
unit. Field data collection is by far the most expensive component of the Census' costs, accounting for nearly 60 percent of total costs. Technology, data products,
postage, marketing, and communications make up the majority of the additional cost.
Recent censuses have typically sent out two different kinds of census forms for people to fill out. One form called the "short form"
questionnaire includes questions that are asked of residents in all households. In 2000, short-form population questions included age, sex, race, Hispanic origin,
household relationship, tenure (home ownership versus rental), and vacancy characteristics. One out of every 6 households received a "long-form" questionnaire
which not only included the short-form items, but also a larger battery of social characteristics (such as education and English language proficiency), economic
characteristics (such as occupation and labor force status), and housing items. Although the "long-form" items were only asked of some residents, the sample is big
enough to yield very accurate estimates for the total populations of different population groups and geographic areas.
Another reason that census information is valuable for social scientists is its ability to provide an over-time record of change in the nation's
population, household and housing characteristics. The fact that the census is taken every ten years and elicits a wide range of information for all, or a very
large sample of the whole population, makes it a very valuable data source to study social and economic change for the country as a whole, and for smaller groups
within the US.
The above was adapted from:
L. First. Investigating Change in American Society: Exploring Social Trends with U.S. Census Data and StudentChip
. Wadsworth Publishing. 1997.
Other Sources of Information on Census 2000
General Accounting Office. "Significant Increase in Cost Per Housing Unit Compare to 1990 Census." GAO-02-31. December 2001.
U.S. Census Bureau. "Introduction to Census 2000 Data Products". MSO/01-ICDP. June 2001.