The Logistics of the US Census


This video was made possible by Brilliant. Learn complex topics simply for 20% off by
being one of the first 200 to sign up at brilliant.org/Wendover. This is one block in one city in one state
of the United States. The US Constitution’s Article 1, Section
2 prescribes something that must happen on this block: “Representatives and direct
Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union,
according to their respective Numbers… 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.” What that means is that every ten years, the
US government must determine how many people live on this block, in addition to how many
people live on every other block in every other city in every other state and territory
of the United States. They must determine the population of the
country—a straightforward task, but one that thousands of US Census Bureau employees
spend a decade preparing for, and a year and $15.6 billion executing. It turns out that counting more than 300 million
people isn’t exactly easy. Instead of looking at how the Census counts
every one of those hundreds of millions, lets rather look at how they count the couple dozen
people living on this one city block. The Bureau started preparing for the 2020
Census on November 1st, 2011. They have a staff of about 4,000 who plan
and coordinate each Census, along the their other programs, and then, every ten years,
when it comes time to actually conduct the Census, they employ more than half a million
other individuals temporarily. The 4,000 full-time employees, though, spend
much of the decade forming their operational plan, the first draft of which was done in
late 2015. They then spent the next three years refining
that. A significant element of this plan includes
deciding where the Census’ field offices will be located. You see, the Census divides the country up
into six regions which are headquartered with permanent offices in Los Angeles, Denver,
Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and New York City. Then, within those regions, the Census opens
up 248 temporary field offices to conduct local operations. These field offices are distributed based
on density so Colorado, for example, only has four while New York, on the other hand,
has 21. Each of these offices has to hire hundreds
or thousands of enumerators to go out into the streets and conduct the Census. Finding half a million temporary workers is,
of course, incredibly difficult and it’s even more difficult for the 2020 census given
that the country currently has the lowest unemployment rate in recent history. In order to attract those half million people
they do have to account for the drastically different wage conditions across the country. Enumerators in Mesa County, Colorado, where
our block is located, for example, are paid $16.00 per hour which, for this area, is a
pretty decent hourly wage—especially for a low-skilled job requiring few qualifications. Of course, if you offered that pay in New
York City, on the other hand, it would be far less attractive so the pay there is upped
to between $25.00 and $28.00 an hour. Despite the decent pay, though, the Census
still always has enormous difficulty filling all their positions so they spend years teeing
up all these workers. The first of the temporary hires for the 2020
Census happened in mid-2018. That’s because, before the Census can go
and ask every household on this block how many people live there, they have to figure
out where each of these households is. In the past ten years, new houses could have
been built, structures could have been subdivided, and plenty more could have changed so this
is a crucial step for accuracy. In addition, if a homeless person is living
in this alley, if someone’s living in a motorhome in someone’s driveway, or if there
are any other abnormal residences, this too needs to be counted. Previously, the Census would have sent someone
to walk this block, in addition to every other block in the country, and mark down where
each residence is, which clearly took an enormous amount of person-hours. With the 2020 Census, though, they’re shifting
technique to use more and more satellite imagery to identify residences. Of course, that’s not perfect. For example, it’s hard to tell if this is
one residence or two, so for any areas that they’re not sure about they’ll still send
people to check in person. At the conclusion of this process, at least
in theory, they should have a list of every single place where people live in the US. Also in 2018, the Census Bureau had to submit
to Congress the questions they planned to ask the American public. The Census is incredibly simple—after all,
it has to be if they expect everyone to answer it. It asks four background questions, five about
the primary resident, then seven about every other resident of a given household. Despite this, the Bureau spends an enormous
amount of time debating how to ask these questions. Question selection is so complex that they
published a 98-page document explaining how they selected the 2020 questions and their
wording. For example, in question three, for the non-primary
residents, they added specification on whether their relation to the primary resident was
as a same-sex or opposite-sex couple. In the past there was the option to mark the
relation as a spouse or unmarried partner, but there was no distinction between same-sex
or opposite-sex. They did, however, calculate what percentage
of couples were same-sex based on how they responded to the question asking if they were
male or female. There was an issue with that, though. Say there’s a married couple living in this
house consisting of one man and one woman. If the woman accidentally marks her sex as
male and also marked her relationship as a spouse, they would be counted as a same-sex
married couple. Given that the overall proportion of Census-surveyed
couples who are same-sex is small, these mistakes could significantly skew the data. With the redesign of this question, it acts
as a failsafe so that even if the woman in this house marks her sex as male, they’ll
still be counted as an opposite-sex couple. These are the tiny details the Bureau has
to think about for each and every question and change. They have to think about how to best structure
them to get the best possible accuracy. Once they have their questions, one of the
final things the Census needs to figure out is how they’re actually going to ask for
responses. Our block is located in Grand Junction, Colorado,
which is a small city, so it, along with most of the country, simply receives a mailed invitation
instructing the recipient to complete the census online. This works well for most of this relatively
urban area, but not for all of it. For example, residences in this small section
of Grand Junction will receive both an invitation to complete the Census online and a paper
Census form. That’s because it’s home to a number of
assisted living facilities and therefore a number of older individuals who are far less
likely to respond online. About 22% of the country is classified by
the Census as areas where individuals are less likely to respond online and therefore
receive paper Census forms as well. There are, though, areas where both of those
options won’t work. Nearby Eagle County, for example, has a population
where one-third are of hispanic origin and plenty of that population has limited or no
English-language skills. Therefore, residences here receive a bilingual
invitation to complete the Census online. There’s then one more category, used in
areas like Costilla county where there is a large Spanish population and limited internet
access, where bilingual paper Census forms are sent out. The Census classifies the entirety of the
country into one of these four categories in order to have the best possible chance
of getting an answer. Once offices are opened, employees are hired,
residences are logged, questions are written, and letters are planned, it’s finally time
for the Census to start in earnest. The first Census responses cannot happen until
2020 starts, and all responses must be in by the time 2020 finishes. They have exactly 366 days to count every
single person in the US, and deliver that count to the US Congress. Our block in Grand Junction is far from the
first place to be counted though. That happens in Toksook Bay, Alaska. Census workers arrive there in late-January,
2020. Toksook Bay, along with 200 or so other rural
Alaskan towns, are exceptions in the overall timeline of the Census count as, in mid-Winter,
when the water and ground are frozen, one can get around relatively easily on snowmobile
whereas, later on, when most of the country’s Census counting is done, it’s very tough
to travel when the ice and snow are melting. Down in the lower 48, the seasons are far
less of a concern so in mid-March, 95% of American households receive a mailed invitation
to fill in the Census online. That includes our block, but if the earlier
investigation found someone living in a mobile home in someone’s driveway there, they would
likely get their invitation hand-delivered. Mobile homes, residences in areas with recent
natural disasters, or households that use PO boxes don’t get mail delivered to their
door so that’s when the Census uses this hand-delivery technique, which is used in
about 4% of cases. A small other proportion—less than 1%—is
visited and surveyed in person from the first instance, mostly in the most remote areas
of Alaska and Maine, in addition to on some American Indian reservations. On our block, like most others, if households
don’t respond to the first invitation, they’ll get a reminder letter, then a reminder postcard,
then a reminder letter with a paper questionnaire, then one more reminder postcard before the
Census gives up on the household responding by internet, mail, or phone. Typically, about a third of the houses on
this block will not have responded on time, even though it’s a legal requirement. Non-respondent residences on our block will
get a visit from an enumerator, but they might not be the first to get visited. In-person visits are prioritized strategically. For example, knowing that college students
will start move out from their dorms and student housing starting in mid-May, they send enumerators
to non-respondents at college campuses first. Each of our houses will get three visits,
then if they don’t respond on the fourth, they’ll also try to ask neighbors if they
know the details of the residents of the given household. They’ll try both the household and the neighbors
again for the fifth and sixth try, but then, if the household doesn’t respond after five
mailings, six visits, and three knocks on the neighbor’s doors, then the Census finally
decides that the residence must be uninhabited. Of course, in addition to counting everyone
in every household, they also have to count people who don’t live in a household. For example, to count homeless people, the
Census will set up at shelters, soup kitchens, food vans, in addition to just going out into
the streets. Another challenge is counting people who live
and work on American ships who don’t have a permanent residence. The Census runs a special program for this—the
Maritime and Military Vessel Enumeration—where ships are sent Census kits including customized
forms with different questions targeted at seafarers. These are all then sent back to the Census
to be included in the count, and a variety of techniques are used to assure that nobody
is double-counted. Throughout the second half of 2020, in-person
visits will finish up, special operations will conclude, and the Census will get into
a huge number crunching operation to figure out, with as much accuracy as possible, what
the final count is. They not only have to give that total number,
but they also have to break it down by state, by county, by town, by race, by age, by relationship
status, and by much, much more. It takes some time, but there’s a very,
very specific deadline—December 31st, 2020. The US Congress needs to know the count by
then in order to re-allocate seats in the House of Representatives proportionally to
the population of the states. In the 2010 Census, 308,745,538 people were
counted as living in the US. In 2020, the number is expected to be around
330 million but, to know for sure, we’ll just have to wait for December 31st, 2020. One of the big jobs at the Census Bureau is
as a math statistician and for that, according to their job listing, you need to be adept
at things like number theory, statistics, probability, algebra, and calculus, all of
which you can learn or brush up on with Brilliant. Each of their courses for each of those subjects
is interactive, wonderfully designed, and helps you learn complex topics like calculus
not through rote memorization, but rather through breaking down the concepts into small,
intuitive chunks and then building it all back together. This is how you can truly understand calculus
or number theory or statistics, rather than just learning the process to solve problems. If math isn’t your thing, they also have
dozens of amazing other courses on subjects like scientific thinking, quantum mechanics,
computer science, and plenty more. To support Wendover Productions and learn
more about Brilliant, head over to brilliant.org/Wendover and, the first 200 to sign up there will also
get 20% off.

100 thoughts on “The Logistics of the US Census

  1. As an Enumerator in training, this video is accurate. I will basically go to the houses that haven't responded to the census. I have to give people the paper to fill out or have them do it online. If the person isn't there I'll put the form on the door. For some reason, it's against the law for an enumerator to put forms in the mailbox, it has to be put on the door with tape.

    There are other things I have to do too. That is the main part though.

  2. Just wondering, why would the government care what gender two inhabitants of a house has? And if they are married?

  3. What a piece of Political Horse Crap… U.S. Census: Are you living? Were you born Male or Female? Are you married or living with a partner? Are you Hispanic, Black, or Other… or Not Applicable? Are you an American Citizen, an Undocumented Worker, or an Undocumented Freeloader? Do you claim Snowflake status to get FREE STUFF?… LMAO

  4. Half a million temporary census workers thats a lot of fava bean and Chianti

  5. In my country, Argentina, we conduct the census in only one day. That day everything shuts down and people are expected to stay at home, waiting for the enumerator. I think your system is better.

  6. If people are registered at birth, when they move, when they die, when they marry, there's not really much new information a census can provide.

  7. bilingual census. Wtf.
    How can a person possible be a citizen and be illiterate in english.
    They must be illegal aliens and in no way shape or form be counted in the census.

  8. Anything you say , can and will be used against you . Protect your privacy , especially from the US government

  9. current predictions for seat gain/loss in the upcoming year:
    states with +3 seats: Texas
    +2 seats: Florida
    +1: Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon
    -1: Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia

  10. Brazil is also having a census this year. For less than 1b dollars, they manage to visit every household here, the census is not answered online or by mail.

  11. Lol. I see you avoided the whole controversy with the questions this time around.

  12. Out of everything happening this year, the 2020 census results are what I am most excited about

  13. 15.6 Billion to execute, 300 million people to count. It cost 52 dollars to count me. I’m certain a more expensive way could be found haha

  14. I worked on the 2016 Canadian census. I was second-in-command for an area that comprised about 15-20% of Winnipeg. The permanent census workers had already hired an enumeration staff for the entire city, so we didn't have to hire enumerators, but we were in charge of training those who'd be working in our area, supervising them, and collecting, organizing and shipping the census forms that they collected (as well as giving them lists of properties that they should visit to collect forms). Fortunately, more than 80% of people took the option to do the census online; it was only the ones who forgot, the ones who don't use computers, and those who had some objection to participating in the census, that we had to deal with. All in all, I think we collected in the neighbourhood of 3,000 forms (representing approximately 10,000 individual people) over the course of 2 months, which isn't a lot, but we were shooting for 100% compliance and those last stragglers do matter (nobody ACTUALLY gets 100% compliance, but you do what you can). My favourite thing to happen was when our enumerators (and us people in charge too…if our enumerators had an issue, we'd have to go collect the information ourselves) ran into the sovereign citizens of our fine city…they actually had signs posted on their gate warning members of "Her Majesty's Government" that they are sovereign and are under no legal obligation to Canada. Suffice to say…we never got census forms from them (it's actually a crime to not participate in the census, and you can get fined…but they rarely go after people who break this law). But it was kind of fun to argue with them…at first. Then it got frustrating. Weirdos.

  15. I wonder if anyone who actually lives in that block is watching this video.

  16. I can't understand a single thing but I'm still watching to see the plane.

  17. I hear the screams of all who sexually identify as "other".

    WHY IS THERE NO "Attack Helicopter" sex in this survey?

  18. Lmao. Y'all realize that if you just pay equal money for equal work on federal projects like the census, that will go a long way towards decreasing state-to-state disparities in average income and by extension living standards right?
    – A Canadian federal employee whose union fought for and won that right around 1999

  19. What does ones sex in relation to ones partner have to do with counting the sum total of a group of people?

  20. Why they dont check the Public Service registrations to count the numbers?

  21. Wonder how your fucking census is going to go when the entire country is under quarantine…lol

  22. In 2010 the economy was so bad the census takers were very high quality. The census came in 3 months early and a billion under budget. LOL

  23. What about people in prison, do they get a specialized form? And what about people in jail? Is their residence considered the jail, or their actual house?

  24. Sam: not making video about planes

    Everyone else: "Wait, that's illegal"

  25. Every 10 years is not often enough! In Ireland we do the census every 4 years

  26. Let’s see how long it takes him to mention airplanes

    He didn’t. A whole Wendover video with planes doesn’t feel real

  27. Also this is so weird that you get invited to do it online, we have to do it on paper and it’s illegal to not fill out the form

  28. What a waste of resources. Facebook and Google already know everything there is to know about us.

  29. Thank you. This video helped me finally get some sleep so I could get away from my back pain

  30. Man do I love the census, we see how accurate people living in America are and how to represent them in Congress and else where.
    USA #census2020
    🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

  31. 4:03 “Personhours” Shut up Trudeau, Just fucking say man-hours.

  32. This video was great timing… I was literally hired by the government as a census worker in Montgomery, Ohio. They’re paying me >$18/hr and 56¢ for every mile I drive. Seeing that I drive a civic that gets 34mpg highway/city average, and that gas will be ~$2 come May, I’m paying 6¢ per mile driven, hence I get paid $5 to drive 10 miles and am making $3 more per hour than I was during my engineering internship… Isn’t it funny how the gov’t treats its workers like royalty, but leave all other workers to fend for themselves w/ wages and benefits?

  33. So interesting to me that this is even a thing! Where i live everyone is registered to the municipality and obliged by law to give notice if they move!

    Edit: I should clarify that i've never heard of anyone getting in trouble because they were living somewhere else for extended periods.

  34. somebody knocked on my door an hour before I watched this.

  35. your expected to give out your sexualorientation and race? Do you have to answer thease questions or is it just the counting that is mandotory?

  36. I’m not used to my city getting talked about in any context outside of local news. Honestly this is the most I’ve ever heard someone talk about Colorado outside of middle school CO history, even just as an example of any random US state.

  37. You know, in my country this information is just registered: who you are, where you live, where houses are located, etc

  38. What about kids how parents are divorced? What if I both get marked down by my moms house and dads house.

  39. So, people don't get fined or anything for not responding? What if you open the door and say you don't want to answer?

    Not American, so I just want to know for academic reasons.

  40. Idk why but that whole process and undertaking seem really interesting.

  41. Gonna have false high numbers since 700,000,000 will be dead from Corona virus in 2020

  42. Nice! My mom just retired from the Census Bureau after working at a Mathmatical Statistician for 43 years

  43. I’m employed as an enumerator for the 2020 census it’s lit and pays hella

  44. I was literally just thinking about the census 10 years ago in elementary school. Hello early comments/commenters!!!

  45. I find it bizarre that it is too controversial to ask a question about citizenship status. The representatives are representing citizens as only citizens can vote. Certainly they should be apportioned by the number of citizens not just residents.

  46. Actually the unemployment rate is not that low if you use better messurements. A ton of people want to work more than they do and many of the new jobs are low paying.

  47. The most important question is omitted.. "Are you a US resident?" which should be known.. that way they can exclude the undocumented (illegal) folks from the electoral college vote allocation for each district/state so areas with more illegal aliens don't get more voting power.. trump tried to fix this only to get shot down in the court system.. we, the people, need to demand this question be added..

  48. Wonder what the numbers would look like if there was an accurate census with all the illegal aliens actually responding

  49. In Australia the census is done every 6 years and everyone has to do it on a particular date, at a particular time (usually like 6 or 7pm), however, the last census in 2016 was the first one done online and you can do it any time on that day BUT you have to imagine it's that particular time. This is because the census looks at how many people, including visitors, are on your property at that time so everyone can be accounted for.

  50. In my country today, census have two methods: online or interview. Online take first from February to March. Meanwhile Interview on June-July.

  51. Mobile homes. Probably the second most American thing after school shootings.

  52. United States labor force participation rate, the number of people eligible to work and have a job is %62.

  53. Could you please do a video on the spread of infections in today modern society? #convid19

  54. I about had a heart attack when I realized the block was in my city

  55. Wendover Productions. Demanding that you stop what you're doing to watch mini documentaries on subjects you didn't even know you were interested in. And also airplanes.

  56. In my country, the census is the same day at the same time in the entire country, it's a Sunday and is mandatory every 10 years, people are not allowed to leave their home and no cars on the streets other than emergency vehicles and others with special authorization. It is done manually house by house and people doing this work are students in their senior year that are at least 18 yo and the rest are selected randomly between 18 yo up to 50 yo I think (Not completely sure about the last number), although the selection is random it is made by zone, so if you are selected you have to count in your neighborhood between 1 to 4 blocks, they have to fill the form for you but in front of you and only with the information you give them, after that, you have to put a sticker in their front door that marks the house as counted so no one is counted twice. I've done it, people are really nice, they use that day to spend with their family and we get paid like 10 $us to buy food, but in reality, people give you food in their houses when you are counting them (so you get to eat a lot and save the money). Of course, it is much much easier I imagine in a small country like mine with only 11 million people.

  57. Me: I don't want to do your census form. I don't think this is any of the government's business.

    Uncle Sam: Then you'll be fined.

    Me: I won't pay your fine.

    Uncle Sam: Then you'll be jailed.

    Me: I won't go to jail and will resist.

    Uncle Sam: Then you'll be shot.

    Me: Great. So the state is willing to murder one of its citizens for not filling out paperwork.

    Uncle Sam: Every law is ultimately forced compliance under threat of murder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *