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What is the Census? - Definition & Purpose

Instructor: Brianna Whiting
In this lesson, we will explain what the census is. We will then look at the purpose of the census and see who participates in it. The lesson will wrap up with a conclusion and a quiz.

An Introduction to the Census

Like every other day, you walk out to your mailbox and grab your mail. As you begin flipping through the contents, you notice an envelope that is not familiar to you. After settling down at your dining room table, you open the envelope and find a survey. It's filled with questions asking for information about your age, marital status, place of residence, and more. The survey you are about to fill out is the Census.

The Purpose

So why does the Census collect information about individuals? Well, the information is used to get a broader sense about the population in general. This information then is used to calculate the number of seats that each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives. The information is also used to determine which communities will receive federal funding, and how much.

Decisions Made from Census Information

While the information gathered from the Census plays an important role in determining how many seats each state will have in the House of Representatives, it also determines community funding. With more than $400 billion available for funding each year, you may be wondering, who is benefiting from this money and what programs are helped with this funding? The following is a list of how money may be dispersed within a community.

  • Provides services for the elderly
  • Helps build new roads
  • Helps build new schools
  • Contributes to neighborhood improvements
  • Assists in public health efforts

What is Considered a Community and Place of Residence?

Because the Census helps provide funding for communities, it is important to define what a community consists of. While you may think that's an easy question to answer, you may be surprised to see how a population is counted. For starters, the place where a person spends most of their time, and is the usual place of residence, is where a person is counted for the Census. The list below shows some examples of residences that may not be initially thought of when thinking about a place where one lives.

  • Marinas, soup kitchens, shelters, military ships, military personnel stationed overseas, campgrounds, carnivals and fairs, college dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, correctional institutions, group homes, nursing homes and other facilities, religious facilities, and agriculture facilities

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