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The Purpose of a Census

Updated on August 15, 2018
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Before retiring, Jack worked at IBM for over 28 years. His articles have over 120,000 views.


Every since the days of Jesus, a census is part of our human society. At that time, it was done mainly for taxes. The Romans wanted to count how many citizens so they can estimate the tax revenues.

When our Constitution was drafted in 1789, a provision was put in to take census every ten years. This was necessary to decide how to apportion the House of Representatives based on population. A representative government based on the people necessitate the counting of those very people they are to represent.

- Mar. 2018


Recent debate about the census addresses the question of enumeration. Who should be counted? Obviously, our whole population consists of citizens, permanent residents(those with green cards), visitors (foreign VISA), and undocumented aliens and a small number of refugees ( those granted political asylum).

For the purpose of taking census, everyone should be counted. This information is needed so that our government can be most effective in apportioning resources to the most needed areas. Besides using this data to apportion elected representation, many other related policies also require an accurate account. For example, how much money to be given to each State for medicaid or other entitlements.

The census is taken anonymously. It is based on residence but no names is associated with the data. It is also voluntary. It is a collection of statistics that gives a snapshot of our nation every 10 years. It can show population growth, population migration, and ethnic distribution. It is also used by many groups to get a better handle on the “state of the union”. How well we are doing as a whole and as sub groups...

Who could be against this?

What Does A Census Tell Us?

The answer is lots. Why would someone be against asking certain questions? This is a legitimate concern. It is a debate between the public good vs. privacy of the individual. Some questions should be off limits. The government need not know everything about a citizen. It is based on the fear of “big brother” taking control over everything we do. For example, one’s sexual conduct is private and between consenting adults. There is no reason for government to collect that information. If there is a health risk, that is handled differently by the CDC.

Why would some people be against asking the citizenship question? Afterall, it was included in our census up to the 1950s. Why was it removed?

Coincidentally, it was also when we saw an increase of undocumented aliens crossing our southern border. At first, it was due to our need for migrant farmers. We needed the seasonal labor force to pick the vegetables and fruits. It later branched out to all sorts of unskilled low paying jobs. This shift in our population distribution eventually became large enough to affect local politics.

Once the numbers reach a critical mass, they captured a certain amount of political clout. Politicians realized they can win elections by tapping into this source of votes.

Let me backtrack. Remember, our Constitution mandated the census. It also puts the immigration question in the hand of the executive branch. It is a federal issue about who is allowed to immigrate to our country. The INS was set up to handle legal immigration. The problem with illegal immigration, was restricted to a handful of border States. The rest of the 50 States didn’t care much because it was localized.

For the last 60 years, our government, under different administrations, ignored this growing problem. For different reasons, each party wanted an influx of cheap labor. It is now becoming a huge problem. The census is one way to put a number to the size and scope of that problem.

Today, in 2018, we don’t have a good handle of how many undocument aliens are here. The estimates are all over the map. From 11 million to 40 million, that is a huge range. If the number was small, say a few million, that is 1 or 2% of our population. Then, it is no real problem. Our infrastructure and government programs are not affected much. However, if the number is as high as 10-12%, then it can be a huge burden. That is where we are at. We are trying to nail down that number. It has implications for everything else including our schools, our hospitals, our roads, our entitlement programs...

Let Me Argue for the Other Side

There are some in our country who wants to have all undocumented be given amnesty and a path to citizenship. They argue that the majority of these people are hard working, contribute to our community, pay taxes and should be given every right as a citizen, even the right to vote. After all, they are our neighbors. They argue further that it is the fault of our nation for allowing them to come here and not securing our borders in the first place. They make an excellent point.

They say it is wrong to keep them in the shadows, as second class people, exploited by some for cheap labor, and afraid of the police or ICE when caught and worry about deportation. I totally agree.

What is the solution? If any at this stage in time. The horses have left the barn...

Here are some proposals:


2. The Wall

3. Sanctuary cities

4. blanket Amnesty

5. Voter ID

The Bottom Line

Why would any American be offended by or object to asking the citizenship question in a census? I guess it comes down to power. Which group depend their power on immigration, legal or illegal? Which group stands to gain or loose resources as a result? Which group care about our Constitution?

The question of voter fraud was never a factor in our long history. We always had elections based on citizenship since the beginning. With the passage of each Amendments, we expanded the voting rights to women and to blacks and now we have a level playing field.

Yet, we have people today who for political reasons object to common sense things. A voter ID is something all countries have and yet some in our country think it is a form discrimination. They argue it is to discourage poor people from voting. Some may not have the means to get an ID... yet we have ID for everything else. We have driver liscense, social security card, passports, birth certificates... who does not have an ID in 2018?


This article is to explain our civics. The reason for a census is sound. It is needed to capture the demographics of our society which is moving and changing. Every ten years is not a lot to ask for a recount. It is also common sense for a nation to have an accurate understand of the population. Who and where they reside and whether they are a citizen with the full rights and priviledges.

© 2018 Jack Lee


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