When Do We Count and Why?

Why do we have a census count every ten years and does it really matter? The question popped into my head while reading a fascinating article by Tanzina Vega of the New York Times: Census Considers How to Measure a More Diverse America – about the preparations for the 2020 census and the challenges on how best to measure diversity.

 Why do we have a census is an easy question to answer. As our readers may know, America counts its population every ten years because it is required by the U.S.A. Constitution per Article 1 Section 2:


Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined b adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made…within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

Since the census is enumerated in the Constitution it is clearly a political activity and as you can see by the 3/5 clause and the exclusion of “Indians not taxed” it has its pitfalls and has continued so every ten years since then.

The second question does not have an easy answer: Does the census really matter? It does matter when determining representation in the House for each state, but all the other questions regarding ethnicity, “race” and gender begs the question: what political purpose does it serve? I know – as a person with a complexity of identity markers – that I felt underserved by the census i.e. not fully counted, so my voice was not expressed in that realm even with the changes. I do still have the political power to vote, but that is an occasional political expression, but census outcomes have a lasting, significant impact, such as the distribution of funds. However, can federal, state and local funds be fairly distributed without asking questions of gender, ethnicity and “race”.


I have ideas that I’m working on, but I’m curious as to what you all think out there, so please leave your comments on our Facebook page. And for resources on the topic I recommend reading the collection of articles on MixedRaceStudies website.