Millions of thumbs!
Millions of monkeys
Drumming on drums!
Dum ditty Dum ditty
Dum dum dum
from Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb
written by Al Perkins
illustrated by Eric Gurney
Random House, 1969
As we approach April 1, no kidding, we also approach the decennial census. Once every ten years, our Constitution mandates counting all the people to ensure everyone is represented fairly. Sounds straightforward. Here’s the language from the Consitution, itself:
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.
-—Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution
The first census was taken in 1790. George Washington was serving his first term as President. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson was in charge of gathering and making sense of the numbers. That year, the population was 3,929,625. Congress used the results to apportion 105 seats among fifteen states.
Sounds good until a closer investigation reveals that not “all men [and women] are created equal” after all. The number of free persons were counted, even those who were indentured servants, as long as they were bound for a finite amount of time. Enslaved people were only counted as 3/5 of a person, so the representation was skewed in favor of free and potentially-free people. Native Americans were not counted at all since they were not required to pay taxes.
Most everyone was counted, then, whether they were citizens or not, whether they were born in the United States or somewhere else, even if they were not allowed to vote.
Native Americans living in the general population began being counted in 1860.
When the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 28, 1865, citizenship was granted to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” which included former enslaved people who had just been freed after the Civil War. Each person now was fully counted as a whole person.
It wasn’t until 1900, that Native people living on reservations were counted. While Native Tribes are exempt from taxes, individuals pay income tax on money earned on or off the Reservations. And with the United States Citizenship Act of 1924, Native Americans were acknowledged as citizens. It took the Voting Rights Act in 1957 to guarantee their right to vote. (Even today, in official communications, they are referred to as Indians. https://www.census.gov/history/www/genealogy/decennial_census_records/censuses_of_american_indians.html)
Congressional representation is based on the Census. The number of representatives assigned to each state is determined by the number of people living in each state. States may gain or lose any number of representatives, based on their current population. And numbers of representatives can change every ten years. Each state sends the number of its Representatives plus two (for the Senators) to the Electoral College. (Check last week’s post for more about the Electoral College)
After each Census, state officials re-draw the boundaries of their congressional and state legislative districts for the sole purpose of apportioning representatives.
In the mid-1960s, the Supreme Court decided that a similar number of people should reside in each district. Sometimes, after a Census is tallied, an area needs to be re-drawn so a more consistent number of people can be represented. Gerrymandering comes into play when the lines are re-drawn to favor one political party or another. (see “Gerry Who?” June 4, 2019 if you want more of my take.)
The Census is a population count. Although the intension of the Census is valid, to count the number of people living in the United States for the purpose of making our democracy more representative, we are moving, slooowly, in the direction of fairness.
In 1830, US Marshalls gathered Census information. They received official schedules to record the information they collected.
Specially hired and trained census-takers replaced the US Marshalls in 1880. These temporary government workers went door-to-door to gather their information.
The U.S. Census Bureau began mailing questionnaires to households in 1960.
And now for the first time, we are able to access our Census forms on line. The form can be completed in many, many languages. A comprehensive 9-1/2 minute video is at https://2020census.gov/en/ways-to-respond.html
The results are used by people who make crucial decisions in each community, and on regional, state, and federal levels. At stake is $675,000,000,000 (675 billion) for schools, (grants to support teachers and special education) roads and highways, (grants for public transportation), availability of school lunches and funding for HeadStart, support for firefighters and hospitals, and disaster response. And this is a very partial list.
Census data is as secure as anything can be in this day and age. It is used statistically to allocate money to the places that need it the most.
If you don’t opt to complete your census on-line, a form will be mailed to you. You can also choose to complete it over the phone. A census worker will come to your house sometime May through July to collect your information if you haven’t completed the information by then.
The Census website is really very informative. From FAQs to security related issues try https://2020census.gov/en.html
And while the numbers won’t be ready to re-apportion the Electoral College for the 2020 election, 2021 will be here before we know it.
-—stay curious! (and count yourself in. Count those you love, too)