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What Census questions do I have to answer?

Post by John Henrikson / The News Tribune on March 18, 2010 at 6:15 am with 23 Comments »
March 18, 2010 10:12 am

Rick O. from Puyallup called this week with a question about the 2010 Census forms, which have started to arrive in mailboxes. He had heard that you were only required to furnish a count of the people in your household and that the other questions (age, birthdate, gender, relationship, race, Hispanic origin) were optional. He wonders why, if the primary reason for the census is to reapportion congressional seats, does the government need to know all the other details? When he called the Census Bureau, he couldn’t get a satisfactory answer, so he called the newspaper.

The notion that you’re only required to provide a count seems to have gained currency in some circles, so much so that the Census Bureau included it among the frequently asked questions on its Web site.

(Question) I was sent an email warning me not to provide any information to census takers other than the number of people living in my home. Is that the only question I need to answer on the census?

(Answer) No. Each of the 10 questions on the census form are mandatory and required by law, so please answer all of them.

If you don’t mail back your completed form in a timely manner, a census taker will come to your door to record your answers to the questions on the form.

… Please also be aware that the e-mail you received about the 2010 Census, which falsely claimed to be from the Better Business Bureau, is inaccurate and the Census Bureau, in partnership with the BBB, is advising the public to get the facts.

The law that you must cooperate with the Census is spelled out in Section 221, of Title 13 of the U.S. Code.

Rick is correct in noting that the census is used for redistricting, but it’s also used to allocate federal and state dollars and the demographic picture it provides is used by government, researchers, journalists and businesses to examine trends and make decisions.

On its Web site, the Census Bureau goes into detail about why it’s being so nosy. Below are the justifications for all of the questions on your census form.

How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?

We ask this question to help get an accurate count of the number of people in the household on Census Day, April 1, 2010. The answer should be based on the guidelines in the ‘Start here’ section. We use the information to ensure response accuracy and completeness and to contact respondents whose forms have incomplete or missing information.

Were there any additional people staying here April 1, 2010 that you did not include in Question 1?

Asked since 1880. We ask this question to help identify people who may have been excluded in the count provided in Question 1. We use the information to ensure response accuracy and completeness and to contact respondents whose forms have incomplete or missing information.

Is this house, apartment, or mobile home: owned with mortgage, owned without mortgage, rented, occupied without rent?

Asked since 1890. Homeownership rates serve as an indicator of the nation’s economy. The data are also used to administer housing programs and to inform planning decisions.

What is your telephone number?

We ask for a phone number in case we need to contact a respondent when a form is returned with incomplete or missing information.

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?

Listing the name of each person in the household helps the respondent to include all members, particularly in large households where a respondent may forget who was counted and who was not. Also, names are needed if additional information about an individual must be obtained to complete the census form. Federal law protects the confidentiality of personal information, including names.

What is Person 1’s sex?

Asked since 1790. Census data about sex are important because many federal programs must differentiate between males and females for funding, implementing and evaluating their programs. For instance, laws promoting equal employment opportunity for women require census data on sex. Also, sociologists, economists, and other researchers who analyze social and economic trends use the data.

What is Person 1’s age and Date of Birth?

Asked since 1800. Federal, state, and local governments need data about age to interpret most social and economic characteristics, such as forecasting the number of people eligible for Social Security or Medicare benefits. The data are widely used in planning and evaluating government programs and policies that provide funds or services for children, working-age adults, women of childbearing age, or the older population.

Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin?

Asked since 1970. The data collected in this question are needed by federal agencies to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions, such as under the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. State and local governments may use the data to help plan and administer bilingual programs for people of Hispanic origin.

What is Person 1’s race?

Asked since 1790. Race is key to implementing many federal laws and is needed to monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. State governments use the data to determine congressional, state and local voting districts. Race data are also used to assess fairness of employment practices, to monitor racial disparities in characteristics such as health and education and to plan and obtain funds for public services.

Does Person 1 sometimes live or stay somewhere else?

This is another question we ask in order to ensure response accuracy and completeness and to contact respondents whose forms have incomplete or missing information.

Leave a comment Comments → 23
  1. They used the census to round up people from Japan in WW2…..Don’t answer………..

  2. erkhvd, Michelle Bachmann, that loony House member, is doing a disservice by spreading misinformation about the census. She is encouraging people to only answer the first question. She was correct that it was used in the 1940’s for the purpose you state, but that was before strict confidentiality laws were enacted to correct that mistake. Since then Congress has passed laws to specifically protect the information it collects. Employees found to have violated laws to protect people’s personal identity face up to five years in jail and fines of up to $250,000.

    The Constitution says that Congress can pass laws asking whatever they want on a census, so the law requiring you to answer all questions is constitutional.

    Bachmann is not only wrong here, she is engaging in fearmongering that encourages people to break the law.

  3. There are those that continue to subvert the U.S. Constitution and encourage others to do so as well. This is a conspiracy to disrupt the Census, and the Dept of Justice should begin an immediate investigation and arrest and detain those responsible for fomenting lies and supporting illegal activity.

  4. bkeyport1970 says:

    We need a law in this state that makes it illegal to ask or answer race related questions. Singling out the hispanic populations is akin to the lynching acts in the deep south years ago.


  5. I have no problem answering the questions. If you think this census is nosy, here is the link for the last one.


  6. mattersnot1 says:

    I’ve received my 2010 census and I am not bothered by any of the questions requested.
    What really concerns me are the questions not asked. (i.e.) where were you born (state or country); where was your father and mother born; what language is spoken in your household; can you read and write the english language; if an immigrant, what year did you immigrate; what is your occupation; who is your employer. With this added information, they would be able to identify illegals very quickly. These questions were commonly asked in previous census reports. Take a little of your time and go down to the library and view previous census reports.
    The 2010 census will not be available for public viewing until 2081. The last census currently available for public viewing is the 1930 census. You can view a copy at the main library downtown Tacoma or through Ancestry.com.
    The 1940 census will be available for public viewing next year.

  7. Why after being asked/commanded to fill out an earlier long form many months ago, sent forms three times, and filling it out finally to their specifications, then being called on the phone three times explaining I had sent it in, then having to fill one out on the phone am I being required to going through the whole process again? I am 79 yrs old, and not senile yet! Maybe because I voiced a view that I was not pleased that the present administration early on was trying the place the Census Bureau under the White House? I cannot believe the amount of taxpayer funds on Super Bowl advertising , paper work and phone calls I have received before this present form arrived in the mail. Waste, waste, waste of our hard earned funds.

  8. tubbythetuba says:

    Enumerate means to count. That’s what is called for. This series of questions are clearly political. It is illegal for employers to ask those questions, and should be for any Guberment agency.

  9. vtgates, the US Census did not send out any forms “many months ago”. I do not know what form you filled out, but it wasn’t from the US Census Bureau. There have been a number of scams to obtain financial and personal data this year. Even the Republican Party sent out a form with similar quesitons with a response envelope to some people. It looked like a census form, but asked a lot of questions that were much more private than the current census.

    The data on the long form and the short form are as of April 1, 2010.

  10. APimpNamedSlickback says:


    I didn’t have a problem with the quesitons either, but what purpose would be served by asking all the other questions you suggest? By law census data cannot be shared with law enforcement, so learning who/where illegals are through the census would be pointless.

    Besides, some of your questions the government already has answers to. The census form (at least mine) only came in English, yet the notification letter that preceded it by a week was in 6 different languages. If they receive an English only form back and its been filled out, wouldn’t that indicate that the person either reads/writes English, or cares enough to get it translated? Also, there is no reason for the Census Bureau to know what you do and who you work for, but if the government wants that info, they can already get it from your tax forms. And what is the point of knowing where your parents were born?

  11. John Henrikson says:

    A couple points of clarification:

    vtgates/tuddo: It’s true that the census forms only starting arriving this week. Also, this year, there are no ‘long forms,’ only short forms with basic questions (names, ages, birthdate, race/hispanic origin, household relationships.) The form that vtgates filled out might have been a scam, but it also could have been a legit American Community Survey from the Census Bureau. That’s the program that gathers in-depth demographic information from a sample of the population on an ongoing basis (replacing the every-10-year long form.) Households that have filled out an ACS can expect to get a 2010 Census form as well.

    mattersnot1: Even if they asked those questions, it would be illegal for the Census Bureau to share info with immigration authorities.

  12. John, thanks for the info.

  13. PolarBear53 says:

    silly people you trust the law?They tell you what you want to hear and some of you fall hook, line and sinker….. Just give them the info, My goodness you tell Safeway and Costco what you buy when you use your card. Your debt card hahaha everything you purchase goes into a database and sold to the highest bidder. Stop being so paranoid, you’ d be suprised what people already know

  14. What really surprises me is how many ways Hispanic and Asian are broken out into sub categories; and White, is just white. What if I was European White or Canadian White or Australian White. This “white” has kinda bugged me for awhile.

  15. Listen to the libs screeching “Stop being so paranoid”. Imagine if Bush were still in office- they’d be screeching “domestic spying!!!!!!!” but since Obambam is in office it’s ‘get over it and answer all the questions”. To bad they’d never say the same thing to captured terrorists.

  16. dankuykendall says:

    If it is in the mail, I have no problem as there isn’t anyone living in my PO box.

  17. Only answer question #1 and #9. For #1 count your family. For # 9 check other and write in AMERICAN. The rest the have no athority to ask you so don’t answer. Remember they used the Census to round up JapanizeAmericans in WW2.

    Here is what is says in the Constiution. From Article 1 Section 2:

    “The actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.”

    You do not have to give them you phone number, date of birth, who owns the house, or any of the other info they ask. And think about it. They already have that info in all sorts of government agencys. Ever herd of the I.R.S.? Do you think they have this info? Do you thnk they can keep all you info safe? Every government agency in the U.S. has been hacked, the Pentagon, The F.B.I., all the alphabet agencys have been hacked. Do you think the Census dept will be any different?

    If the come to the door ask the were the get the authority to ask all this. Tell them “it violates my 4TH amendment right to privacy. And I take my 5Th amendment right to not answer any of your questions. Please leave my privet property A.S.A.P. and don’t come back.”

  18. erkhvd. what is it about the sentence you presented that you don’t understand. It clearly says that Congress has the authority “in such manner as they shall by law direct.” So, by law, Congress directed everyone living in the USA to complete all of the census questions. Constitutionally authorized, plain and simple.

  19. In the 2000 census I ran a little experiment. On the race section I checked Pacific Islander. Mind you I’m as Anglo-Saxon as they come with a name to match and have never ever put that down as a race item in my life anywhere. In 2004 I start getting Democratic Party mailings touting the promotion and support of pacific islanders. One was a photo if Hillary on the steps of the Capitol surrounded by pacific islanders she had “helped” in government jobs and promotions.
    Now where do you suppose they got such a specific demographic? Don’t tell me the data is secure. Total BS. Answer “American” to the race questions.

  20. tuddo.

    What law is that you are talking about…… please provide it.

  21. First of all, no one to my knowledge has ever been fined for not filling out the Census. But here’s the US Code Title referencing the fines, for those interested:

    The official fines are found in US Code Title 13, Chapter 7, Subchapter II, Sec. 221 (a) and (b):…

    (a) Whoever, being over eighteen years of age, refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary, or by any other authorized officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof acting under the instructions of the Secretary or authorized officer, to answer, to the best of his knowledge, any of the questions on any schedule submitted to him in connection with any census or survey provided for by subchapters I, II, IV, and V of chapter 5 of this title, applying to himself or to the family to which he belongs or is related, or to the farm or farms of which he or his family is the occupant, shall be fined not more than $100.

    (b) Whoever, when answering questions described in subsection (a) of this section, and under the conditions or circumstances described in such subsection, willfully gives any answer that is false, shall be fined not more than $500.

    (c) Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no person shall be compelled to disclose information relative to his religious beliefs or to membership in a religious body.

    All in all, I’ll follow the Constitution (only answer how many people live in my home) and keep my privacy and fight the overreaching, corrupt growth of government.

  22. Dear Ms. Dordick,

    Since you have deemed it necessary to publicly post the enclosed documents on the entrance of our apartment complex, improperly and inaccurately characterizing the people who reside at my address as “wasting tax payer dollars” and not being “responsible,” I feel it only fair to respond publicly in kind.

    Please be advised that:

    1) We have already completed our census form and returned it (as instructed) in the SASE that was provided. Unfortunately, we cannot be responsible for when or even if the form will reach your department. That is determined by yet another government department unable to perform its function respectfully.

    2) We need not contribute to the waste of tax payer dollars as you improperly and inappropriately declare in your handwritten addendum—our government and its officials do that quite effectively without our assistance. In fact, in our opinion, you and your department would seem to be part of that waste, as the private information your department obtains from a small and select group of private citizens has not, in our in experience, ever contributed to better schools, hospitals, or fire stations and, most certainly, has never contributed to better health care, education, or transportation services in America. In fact, in the past five decades that we have provided our census information to the Census Bureau, we have seen only a decrease in both the quantity and or the quality of these institutions!

    3) Perhaps, if your administration ever figures out that it would be much more efficient and productive to establish a simple website and email address, then we could complete their 15-20 minute survey online and save even more of those tax payer dollars you accuse us of wasting by not having to employ people such as yourself to harass citizens like us who have already completed our civic responsibility.

    Most respectfully yours,

    The Residents At
    (our address)

    P.S. Your administrators might also consider sending its census takers around during the evening hours rather than during the day when most citizens are working, running errands, or simply not at home.

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