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Head-and-shoulders portrait of Uncle Sam, Census 1940.


Anyone who works with the Decennial Census will not deny its putative reputation. Mandated by law and billed as the largest peacetime mobilization effort anywhere in the world, the U.S. Decennial Census, officially known as the Census of Population and Housing, has been conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau every ten years since 1790--the year the first census was taken. An attempt is made to count every individual and to survey a percentage of the populace for a snapshot of the Nation's inhabitants.

Preparations for collecting this vast body of information involves months and years of planning and strategy—coordinating the efforts of thousands of people and partnerships at various governmental and organizational levels—and massive data collection efforts and data tabulations using a variety of methods, some quite complex, all culminating in the publishing of a plethora of census data products over a span of several years.

BERA - Business & Economics Research Advisor - A Quarterly Guide to Business & Economics Topics

Spring 2013

Census Connections

A Guide To Locating Selected U.S. Decennial And Economic Census Publications In The Library Of Congress

Table of Contents

Census Reference Publications
      Censuses of Population
            Census Data
            Specific Censuses
            State Censuses
      Economic Censuses
Census Search Strategies
Current Business Reports
Special Censuses
Congressional District Data    New resource
LC Catalog Searches

Image (left):
Promotional Poster "It's your America! Help the ten-year roll call,"
Head-and-shoulders portrait of Uncle Sam, Census 1940.
    U.S. Bureau of the Census
Library of Congress
Prints and Photographs Division

Statistics show that as the Nation's population grew and its demographics changed, so did the Decennial Census evolve in order to measure that growth and change. As a result, no two censuses are exactly alike. To count a population of 3,329,326 in 1790, the census cost $44,377, utilized 1,650 enumerators, and culminated in one published volume totaling 56 pages.1 The 1990 Census counted a population of 248,709,873, cost $2.5 billion, and culminated in published census reports totaling 450,000 pages 2. For Census 2000, 281.4 million people were counted at an estimated cost of $6.56 billion, using 550,000 enumerators and utilizing an advertising campaign that cost $167 million.3

The Economic Census is a smaller, yet no less impressive system also conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau every five years of all business establishments in the U.S., providing a snapshot of the Nation's economy from the national to the local level.

It collects data on the U.S. economy from over 5 million businesses in order to cover nearly all of the Nation's business sector establishments. Alan Greenspan, Former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board has said that the Economic Census "is indispensable to understanding America's economy. It assures the accuracy of the statistics we rely on for sound economic policy and for successful business planning."4

The history of the economic censuses dates back to the 1810 Decennial Census where questions were first asked on "25 broad categories of manufactured products and more than 200 kinds of goods." 5 Initially collected as part of the decennial census, the economic census expanded in size and scope, broadening its coverage to include more and more industries and services until it subsequently launched into its own separate series beginning in the 1930s, continuing to the present.

Planning for the 1992 Economic Census began as early as 1989 with a total cost for the 1992 Economic Census of $156,072,000; and the Census Bureau ordered from the Government Printing Office between 1600 and 3200 copies of each final report, page count averaging from 8 to 380 pages per report.6

Census programs and the data collection and processing procedures associated with them are formidable operations that generate census data reports and products in a variety of formats including print, microfiche, computer tape, CD-ROM, and DVD-ROMs. Printed reports were a major method of publication for the decennial census and a primary method for the economic census. But the advent of computer technology signaled a dubious future for printed reports. The 1960 Decennial Census became the first to be tabulated completely by computer, and the 1990 Decennial Census was the first census to go online, offering much of its data in PDF format. Moreover, the American FactFinder—the Bureau's online data retrieval electronic tool— has become the primary means for retrieving the latest census data. As a result, the publishing of printed census reports is declining. In fact, there were only a handful of printed reports produced for Census 2000 compared to those printed for the 1990 Census, and for the 2010 Census the plans are to offer even fewer printed reports. In similar fashion, printed reports were substantially reduced for the 1997 Economic Census and are discontinued entirely for the 2007 Economic Census, whose data are due out in 2009 and 2010. Further, there are no plans to even offer online documents in PDF for the 2007 Economic Census as is the case for reports in the 2002 Economic Census.

So, as the U.S. Census Bureau continues to release its data online, as the popular pre-packaged printed reports of the past are replaced with raw data or data sets that facilitate end-user data customization and tabulation needs, as the Census Bureau also continues to make available more of its historical census data over the web, as changes in questions asked, subjects covered, and census data products produced have varied greatly across each census, and as the data from the decennial and economic censuses together constitute a vast repository of information—each with its own inherent set of glossaries, concepts, and geographical and hierarchical labyrinths and associated data products, it has become increasingly more challenging to determine where to go to find the census data you need and how to access it expeditiously. Moreover, there are a wide array of census reference publications and other census data finding aids that are available to assist researchers in identifying and locating the pertinent census reports they need.

 1. Merriam, William Rush. American census taken from the first census of the United States. Reprinted from The Century Magazine for April 1903, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1904. Pages 12, 14, and 32.

 2. Census 1990 Fast Facts

 3. Census 2000 Fast Facts

 4. Alan Greenspan, cited in U.S. Bureau of the Census. Press Release. january 1998. "1997 Economic Census--Business Leaders Agree It's 'Indispensable' "
Archived at:

 5. U.S. Census Bureau. History. Index of Questions.

 6.U.S. Department of Commerce. Economics and Statistics Administration. Bureau of the Census. History of the 1992 Economic Census. Washington, D.C. : GPO. March 1996. Pages 6-7, 156-157, 159.

Last updated: 03/12/2018

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