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  • This is one block in one city in one state of the United States.

  • The US Constitution's Article 1, Section 2 prescribes something that must happen on

  • this block: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several

  • States which may be included within this Union, 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.”

  • What that means is that every ten years, the US government must determine how many people

  • live on this block, in addition to how many people live on every other block in every

  • other city in every other state and territory of the United States.

  • They must determine the population of the country—a straightforward task, but one

  • that thousands of US Census Bureau employees spend a decade preparing for, and a year and

  • $15.6 billion executing.

  • It turns out that counting more than 300 million people isn't exactly easy.

  • Instead of looking at how the Census counts every one of those hundreds of millions, lets

  • rather look at how they count the couple dozen people living on this one city block.

  • The Bureau started preparing for the 2020 Census on November 1st, 2011.

  • They have a staff of about 4,000 who plan and coordinate each Census, along the their

  • other programs, and then, every ten years, when it comes time to actually conduct the

  • Census, they employ more than half a million other individuals temporarily.

  • The 4,000 full-time employees, though, spend much of the decade forming their operational

  • plan, the first draft of which was done in late 2015.

  • They then spent the next three years refining that.

  • A significant element of this plan includes deciding where the Census' field offices

  • will be located.

  • You see, the Census divides the country up into six regions which are headquartered with

  • permanent offices in Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and New York

  • City.

  • Then, within those regions, the Census opens up 248 temporary field offices to conduct

  • local operations.

  • These field offices are distributed based on density so Colorado, for example, only

  • has four while New York, on the other hand, has 21.

  • Each of these offices has to hire hundreds or thousands of enumerators to go out into

  • the streets and conduct the Census.

  • Finding half a million temporary workers is, of course, incredibly difficult and it's

  • even more difficult for the 2020 census given that the country currently has the lowest

  • unemployment rate in recent history.

  • In order to attract those half million people they do have to account for the drastically

  • different wage conditions across the country.

  • Enumerators in Mesa County, Colorado, where our block is located, for example, are paid

  • $16.00 per hour which, for this area, is a pretty decent hourly wageespecially for

  • a low-skilled job requiring few qualifications.

  • Of course, if you offered that pay in New York City, on the other hand, it would be

  • far less attractive so the pay there is upped to between $25.00 and $28.00 an hour.

  • Despite the decent pay, though, the Census still always has enormous difficulty filling

  • all their positions so they spend years teeing up all these workers.

  • The first of the temporary hires for the 2020 Census happened in mid-2018.

  • That's because, before the Census can go and ask every household on this block how

  • many people live there, they have to figure out where each of these households is.

  • In the past ten years, new houses could have been built, structures could have been subdivided,

  • and plenty more could have changed so this is a crucial step for accuracy.

  • In addition, if a homeless person is living in this alley, if someone's living in a

  • motorhome in someone's driveway, or if there are any other abnormal residences, this too

  • needs to be counted.

  • Previously, the Census would have sent someone to walk this block, in addition to every other

  • block in the country, and mark down where each residence is, which clearly took an enormous

  • amount of person-hours.

  • With the 2020 Census, though, they're shifting technique to use more and more satellite imagery

  • to identify residences.

  • Of course, that's not perfect.

  • For example, it's hard to tell if this is one residence or two, so for any areas that

  • they're not sure about they'll still send people to check in person.

  • At the conclusion of this process, at least in theory, they should have a list of every

  • single place where people live in the US.

  • Also in 2018, the Census Bureau had to submit to Congress the questions they planned to

  • ask the American public.

  • The Census is incredibly simpleafter all, it has to be if they expect everyone to answer

  • it.

  • It asks four background questions, five about the primary resident, then seven about every

  • other resident of a given household.

  • Despite this, the Bureau spends an enormous amount of time debating how to ask these questions.

  • Question selection is so complex that they published a 98-page document explaining how

  • they selected the 2020 questions and their wording.

  • For example, in question three, for the non-primary residents, they added specification on whether

  • their relation to the primary resident was as a same-sex or opposite-sex couple.

  • In the past there was the option to mark the relation as a spouse or unmarried partner,

  • but there was no distinction between same-sex or opposite-sex.

  • They did, however, calculate what percentage of couples were same-sex based on how they

  • responded to the question asking if they were male or female.

  • There was an issue with that, though.

  • Say there's a married couple living in this house consisting of one man and one woman.

  • If the woman accidentally marks her sex as male and also marked her relationship as a

  • spouse, they would be counted as a same-sex married couple.

  • Given that the overall proportion of Census-surveyed couples who are same-sex is small, these mistakes

  • could significantly skew the data.

  • With the redesign of this question, it acts as a failsafe so that even if the woman in

  • this house marks her sex as male, they'll still be counted as an opposite-sex couple.

  • These are the tiny details the Bureau has to think about for each and every question

  • and change.

  • They have to think about how to best structure them to get the best possible accuracy.

  • Once they have their questions, one of the final things the Census needs to figure out

  • is how they're actually going to ask for responses.

  • Our block is located in Grand Junction, Colorado, which is a small city, so it, along with most

  • of the country, simply receives a mailed invitation instructing the recipient to complete the

  • census online.

  • This works well for most of this relatively urban area, but not for all of it.

  • For example, residences in this small section of Grand Junction will receive both an invitation

  • to complete the Census online and a paper Census form.

  • That's because it's home to a number of assisted living facilities and therefore a

  • number of older individuals who are far less likely to respond online.

  • About 22% of the country is classified by the Census as areas where individuals are

  • less likely to respond online and therefore receive paper Census forms as well.

  • There are, though, areas where both of those options won't work.

  • Nearby Eagle County, for example, has a population where one-third are of hispanic origin and

  • plenty of that population has limited or no English-language skills.

  • Therefore, residences here receive a bilingual invitation to complete the Census online.

  • There's then one more category, used in areas like Costilla county where there is

  • a large Spanish population and limited internet access, where bilingual paper Census forms

  • are sent out.

  • The Census classifies the entirety of the country into one of these four categories

  • in order to have the best possible chance of getting an answer.

  • Once offices are opened, employees are hired, residences are logged, questions are written,

  • and letters are planned, it's finally time for the Census to start in earnest.

  • The first Census responses cannot happen until 2020 starts, and all responses must be in

  • by the time 2020 finishes.

  • They have exactly 366 days to count every single person in the US, and deliver that

  • count to the US Congress.

  • Our block in Grand Junction is far from the first place to be counted though.

  • That happens in Toksook Bay, Alaska.

  • Census workers arrive there in late-January, 2020.

  • Toksook Bay, along with 200 or so other rural Alaskan towns, are exceptions in the overall

  • timeline of the Census count as, in mid-Winter, when the water and ground are frozen, one

  • can get around relatively easily on snowmobile whereas, later on, when most of the country's

  • Census counting is done, it's very tough to travel when the ice and snow are melting.

  • Down in the lower 48, the seasons are far less of a concern so in mid-March, 95% of

  • American households receive a mailed invitation to fill in the Census online.

  • That includes our block, but if the earlier investigation found someone living in a mobile

  • home in someone's driveway there, they would likely get their invitation hand-delivered.

  • Mobile homes, residences in areas with recent natural disasters, or households that use

  • PO boxes don't get mail delivered to their door so that's when the Census uses this

  • hand-delivery technique, which is used in about 4% of cases.

  • A small other proportionless than 1%—is visited and surveyed in person from the first

  • instance, mostly in the most remote areas of Alaska and Maine, in addition to on some

  • American Indian reservations.

  • On our block, like most others, if households don't respond to the first invitation, they'll

  • get a reminder letter, then a reminder postcard, then a reminder letter with a paper questionnaire,

  • then one more reminder postcard before the Census gives up on the household responding

  • by internet, mail, or phone.

  • Typically, about a third of the houses on this block will not have responded on time,

  • even though it's a legal requirement.

  • Non-respondent residences on our block will get a visit from an enumerator, but they might

  • not be the first to get visited.

  • In-person visits are prioritized strategically.

  • For example, knowing that college students will start move out from their dorms and student

  • housing starting in mid-May, they send enumerators to non-respondents at college campuses first.

  • Each of our houses will get three visits, then if they don't respond on the fourth,

  • they'll also try to ask neighbors if they know the details of the residents of the given

  • household.

  • They'll try both the household and the neighbors again for the fifth and sixth try, but then,

  • if the household doesn't respond after five mailings, six visits, and three knocks on

  • the neighbor's doors, then the Census finally decides that the residence must be uninhabited.

  • Of course, in addition to counting everyone in every household, they also have to count

  • people who don't live in a household.

  • For example, to count homeless people, the Census will set up at shelters, soup kitchens,

  • food vans, in addition to just going out into the streets.

  • Another challenge is counting people who live and work on American ships who don't have

  • a permanent residence.

  • The Census runs a special program for thisthe Maritime and Military Vessel Enumerationwhere

  • ships are sent Census kits including customized forms with different questions targeted at

  • seafarers.

  • These are all then sent back to the Census to be included in the count, and a variety

  • of techniques are used to assure that nobody is double-counted.

  • Throughout the second half of 2020, in-person visits will finish up, special operations

  • will conclude, and the Census will get into a huge number crunching operation to figure

  • out, with as much accuracy as possible, what the final count is.

  • They not only have to give that total number, but they also have to break it down by state,

  • by county, by town, by race, by age, by relationship status, and by much, much more.

  • It takes some time, but there's a very, very specific deadlineDecember 31st, 2020.

  • The US Congress needs to know the count by then in order to re-allocate seats in the

  • House of Representatives proportionally to the population of the states.

  • In the 2010 Census, 308,745,538 people were counted as living in the US.

  • In 2020, the number is expected to be around 330 million but, to know for sure, we'll

  • just have to wait for December 31st, 2020.

  • One of the big jobs at the Census Bureau is as a math statistician and for that, according

  • to their job listing, you need to be adept at things like number theory, statistics,

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B1 US census block household count counted invitation

The Logistics of the US Census

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/09
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