Celebrating 224 Years of Measuring America’s People, Places, and Economy

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Written by: John H. Thompson

During my swearing-in ceremony at the National Archives, I was able to see some of the “charters of freedom” housed there – the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. On the eve of celebrating our national independence, I reflect on what struck me most, particularly Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States… 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…”

The framers emphasized the importance of collecting timely statistics for our nation by the prominence of this first mention of what became the Census Bureau near the top of the document. The need for a census became clear soon after the 13 colonies broke ties with Great Britain. The Revolutionary War was expensive, and a census provided a way to allocate the debt among the states. The Founding Fathers also wanted to establish a representative government, linking a state’s population to the number of its members in the House of Representatives. Thus, the framers of our Constitution enshrined the census as a vital tool that we use to measure America’s people, places and economy.

Since 1790, the U.S. Census has been more than a simple head count; it has recorded the growth and composition of our nation. Today, the 10-year census, the economic census, and the American Community Survey provide statistics that let us know how our country is doing. We give Congress and community leaders the tools they need to do everything from planning schools and building roads, to providing recreational opportunities and health care services – decisions that shape our democracy.

It’s an honor to serve as the Director of the Census Bureau, and I’m grateful to the agency’s employees for their hard work. America’s future will be data-driven, and my colleagues have always led the way in tracking emerging trends and embracing new technologies – from Herman Hollerith’s development of an automatic tabulation system for the 1890 Census, to our acquisition of the first civilian computer in 1950, to our plans to conduct the 2020 Census largely over the internet.

I invite you to learn more about the Census Bureau’s innovative history and role in shaping America’s development by visiting http://www.census.gov/how/infographics or http://www.census.gov/history.

 

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