The upcoming census is important to us all because it provides essential data about our community that is used in many federal funding formulas and helps to determine how and what services are provided to our residents. Incidentally this will also be the first ever U.S. Census to offer options to respond online or by phone, or if you wish, you can still respond on a paper form.

This will be the 24th census and it has long history going back to when George Washington was president. According to, in 1787 the U.S. became the first nation to make a census mandatory in its Constitution. The first census was conducted in 1790 by federal marshals and it took nearly 18 months to count about 4 million people. It has been conducted every 10 years since then. Here’s an interesting fact, the word “census” is Latin and it means to “tax.”

The federal government had a good reason to conduct a census back then. It was used to determine how many members of Congress can be allocated to each state. The government suspected that each state would try to bump up their population numbers to increase its representation in Congress. So it was also used to allocate the cost of the Revolutionary War making states with more population pay more. 

The first census had only six questions, however, by 1840 it ballooned to more than 70 questions making it a massive undertaking. Because of this conducting a census does not always go smoothly. For example, in 1990 they apparently missed about 8.4 million people and counted some 4.4 million people twice. How did this happen? It is estimated that some 30 million households did not respond, partly because they may not have been able to read English. Since then the census forms have been printed in six languages. OK, that explains how people might have been missed, but how do you count 4.4 million people twice? This is a good example of what can go wrong with a census. I expect we will not see these types of problems with our local census. 

So when the census form arrives at your house please fill it out and return it promptly, respond online or by phone, your community needs your support. 


Ken Harty is the publisher of The Fergus Falls Daily Journal.


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