Census Taking, 1980

February 29, 1980

Report Outline
Controversy Preceding April I
Development of the U.S. Census
Demographic Change and Analysis
Special Focus

Controversy Preceding April I

Effort to Prevent Undercount of Minorities

For the 20th time since the nation's beginning, it will count its people in a decennial census and try to find out where and how they live. About 90 percent of the 80 million households will receive census questionnaires by mail with instructions to return them as close as possible to Census Day, April 1. The remaining people, mostly those in sparsely populated rural areas, will be visited in person by census enumerators. The goal of this massive effort is to provide a statistical portrait from which government and business will make decisions affecting them all. Where people live will determine which states will gain or lose congressional seats. It will also bear on the multi-billion-dollar allocation of federal and state funds to localities, on business plans for plant location and market strategy, on social needs for the aged, the inner city, the rural poor, and on a thousand other matters.

While complete, accurate and reliable statistical knowledge is essential for all of those purposes, the Census Bureau by its own admission has been unable in past censuses to find and count every man, woman and child. Census officials do not expect a perfect score this year either, but they hope to improve on their 1970 record. They estimate that 5.3 million people, 2.5 percent of the population, did not get counted that year. Even that was an improvement over 1950 and 1960.

The bureau is mounting a special effort to count members of minority groups, which accounted for a disproportionately large segment of those missed 10 years ago. Census officials have estimated that 7.7 percent of all blacks were missed in 1970, compared to only 1.9 percent of the whites. The rate of undercount for black men is believed to have been nearly 10 percent. Although estimates of other ethnic and racial groups are less accurate, it is agreed that Hispanics and Asian-Americans were also undercounted.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
May 03, 2019  The 2020 Census Updated
May 14, 2010  Census Controversy
May 01, 1998  Census 2000
Mar. 10, 1989  1990 Census: Undercounting Minorities
Feb. 29, 1980  Census Taking, 1980
Mar. 18, 1970  Census Taking, 1970
Civil Rights: African Americans