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Research Guides | Library | Amherst College

Find U.S. Census Information

What is the purpose of the census?

The U.S. Census Bureau has been taking a census of the whole population every ten years since 1790. Its original purpose was to determine congressional representation and to apportion taxes to pay for the expensive Revolutionary War.

Key Facts:

The census helps determine the annual distribution of over 675 billion federal dollars.

  • It is an essential tool in monitoring and enforcing civil-rights legislation in such areas as employment, voting rights, housing and mortgage lending, health-care services, and educational opportunities.
  • The census includes (or attempts to include) all those living in the United States on Census Day (legal citizens, as well as undocumented).
  • It provides an unmatched wealth of socioeconomic data on individuals, families, and households available down to detailed geographic areas -- towns, census tracts, and even blocks.

Visit 2020census.gov find updates and news about the latest census.

What questions are asked by the census?

The questions asked vary each decade (table of all questions asked, 1790-2000), reflecting the concerns of the time. The core data include:

  • age
  • sex
  • race literacy or school attainment
  • household and family composition
  • place of birth
  • occupation
  • income and poverty
  • home ownership

Curious about the census form? The Census Bureau's history site has images of census forms from 1790 - 2010.

Where can I find census data?