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Make sure you get counted for the 2010 Census

It's not only a new year, it is also a decennial Census year. But more urban areas face dangers of undercounting not just from minority areas but from "transformed housing" like basement apartments.

2010 Census form

As part of a constitutional mandate, every ten years the Census Bureau conducts a population count. The initial purpose of the census was to determine the appropriation of state representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives. However, the once a decade population count provides critical demographic and housing data that federal and local officials use to determine the distribution of federal money.

To count the population, the Census Bureau mails questionnaires to every residence in the United States beginning in March in preparation for Census Day on April 1st. Households fill out the form, using April 1st as a point of reference, and mail it back in the pre-addressed stamped envelope.

Unlike past Census years, the 2010 Census form contains just 10 short questions, including name, age, date of birth, sex, race, Hispanic origin, and housing type. For every Census form that is not mailed back, the Census Bureau sends a field interviewer to follow up with household and to collect the missing information. This is a costly operation and could be avoided if people would just mail back their forms. In 2000, the national mail-back response rate was 67%. The mail-back response rate for the District of Columbia was 60%.

There are several challenges to getting an accurate count of area residents. Past decennial counts undercounted racial/ethnic minorities. Blacks make up approximately 53% of the District's population, for example. The Wards with the largest black populations also had some of the lowest mail-back rates for the 2000 Census. Ward 8 had the lowest mail-back response rate in the District (45%). Local community organizations have stepped up efforts to help lessen the accuracy gap in the count of minority groups, but more out reach is needed to ensure an accurate count.

Another obstacle the District faces is getting 2010 Census forms to those who live in what the Census calls "transformed housing". Homes that have been subdivided into multiple units often only have one mailing address. A number of homes, especially in more urban communities, have basement apartments that are rented out separately from the rest of the house, but there is only one mailbox. Since the Census Bureau uses mailing addresses to send out forms, this means that a house that has multiple units but only one official mailing address will only get one form. Each unit/household should get their own questionnaire to make sure all persons are counted correctly.

If you do not get a 2010 questionnaire because you live in a transformed housing structure or have questions about how the fill the form out, you can contact your local Questionnaire Assistance Center (QAC). The Census Bureau expects to open 30,000 QACs across the county between March 19th and April 19th. The Census Bureau is still determining the potential sites, but all locations should be finalized by February 2010 and posted on the 2010 Census website. It will take a little effort on your part to get a form if you live somewhere with multiple units, but one mailing address, but being counted is priceless.

The 2010 Census form is one of shortest ever sent out, yet the information collected is just as important as ever for your immediate neighborhood and for the District. To keep up with the latest developments, check out the Census' 2010 Blog.

Lynda Laughlin is a family demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau. She holds a PhD in sociology and enjoys reading, writing, and researching issues related to families and communities, urban economics, and urban development. Lynda lives in Mt. Pleasant. Views expressed here are strictly her own. 


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I was born and raised in DC, have owned property here in DC for 20 years and have NEVER received any census forms.

by w on Jan 15, 2010 10:55 am • linkreport

The census is only performed every ten years, W, so at most you would have gotten two before. I know my parents got a form for the 2000 census at home, but I didn't at my apartment in college, likely for the reasons Lynda describes.

by Distantantennas on Jan 15, 2010 11:08 am • linkreport


This year, the Census Bureau has gone through their most extensive address canvassing effort in order to ensure that as many addresses as possible will receive questionnaires in the mail come March. There is, however, a chance that your address may not be in the database.

In the event that you do not receive a form in the mail, you can get a replacement form at one of the Questionnaire Assistance Centers, as Lynda notes.

Filling out the form is a vital part of any DC resident's civic obligation. It's the one responsibility that any resident can partake in - citizen, undocumented, kids, babies, elderly, ex-convicts, immigrants, college students, etc - if you live here, you should be counted here.

There's a lot of money at stake for local jurisdictions, as a huge range of Federal funds are apportioned to states and cities on the basis of census data. Even if you're not certain that this money will benefit you directly (and it will - it encompasses everything from public transit to medicare), at the very least, being counted will assure that DC is not leaving that money on the table.

Information on DC's local outreach efforts can be found at

Similarly, NPR had a great piece this weekend on some of the challenges in counting DC and other cities around the nation - the audio can be found here:

by Alex B. on Jan 15, 2010 11:10 am • linkreport

You know, the rest of the civilized world (mostly Europe) just has a requirement that citizens be registered with the government. No census needed and a continuous count of the population included.

Add DMV, IRS and school records, and tadaa, you have a pretty decent count.

by Jasper on Jan 15, 2010 11:38 am • linkreport

"Appropriation" is the wrong word. You mean "apportionment."

"The initial purpose of the census was to determine the appropriation of state representatives to the"

by Dread Pirate Roberts on Jan 15, 2010 11:41 am • linkreport

Jasper, while I admit that's efficient, EVERYONE hates the registration system in Russia. It was particularly bad for me, because I was a foreign national, but it's a terrible pain in the ass to fill out that much paperwork when you move from one rental to another, let alone buy something.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 15, 2010 11:46 am • linkreport

There's also the matter that the general basics of our current system are mandated by the Constitution. Changing the 10 year timeframe or the mandate that we could everyone would likely require a Constitutional Amendment.

by Alex B. on Jan 15, 2010 11:48 am • linkreport

Alex B

I totally about the importance of the US census and I have actually done quite a bit of research in the US National Archives with their records. However- I had been under the impression that only certain households got forms and that a lot of the canvassing was done using other records- that is- for modern times.

As for "civic responsibilty", and despite the fact that I always pay my taxes in full and on time
[ most of which seems to go to stupid wasteful social programs that do nothing to help upstanding citizens];
I also served on a Grand Jury in DC for 8 weeks and it was sheer hell on earth.

No one needs to tell me- as someone who was actually BORN HERE , what "civic responsibility is all about.

by w on Jan 15, 2010 1:09 pm • linkreport

as far as not being on a database- whatever the Fu(k that might be- the District government sure as hell sends me one of those jury forms every two years so they know Im here.
They also know where to send the tax forms- as does the federal government.

And despite all of this- those of us who happen to live in residential alleys in DC still get ignored and passed over when it comes down to essential services, etc.

by w on Jan 15, 2010 1:43 pm • linkreport


The American traditions of federalism and limited government will make something like a national registration system unlikely anytime soon.

Additionally, the Europeans love the idea of efficient, effective government. While us dumb Americans were stuck in the horse-and-buggy ways of democratic capitalism back in the first half of the 20th century, Europe was giving us much more modern, efficient forms of government like Fascism and Socialism.

How could we have been so dumb and not hopped on board that trend?

by MPC on Jan 15, 2010 2:13 pm • linkreport

This whole census phenomenon makes one wonder how many of - or if any of the citizens in old residential alleys in DC have been missed by census people. We have been agitating for years now to get our fair portion of city services , police protection [ they never seem to be able to locate us] snow removal [never happens even after all of the sidestreets are cleared] trash cans [ we NEVER get them- only the street fronting residents seem to get them]...

the list goes on and on.

Im curious- maybe, perhaps Im not the only residential alley citizen who has been ignored by the US census ????

by w on Jan 15, 2010 3:09 pm • linkreport

Also, I'd like to remind any blog readers who may live in rural areas, particularly in deep-Red States: the Census is a government conspiracy to take away your guns, pickup trucks, and fatty foods. So make sure you tear up your Census form, and don't answer the phone.


by oboe on Jan 15, 2010 8:35 pm • linkreport

@Jasper, the census is more then a head count. It collects all kinds of useful info like what proportion of homes have indoor plumbing (okay, that's an old question and may not still be included), but its a survey of living conditions and economic indicators and other stuff like how many generations live in one household, how many unmarried couples or unrelated roommates are living together, how many were born in a hospital, etc.

by Bianchi on Jan 15, 2010 8:51 pm • linkreport

"including name, age, date of birth, sex, race, Hispanic origin, and housing type."

Americans come in all shapes, sizes and origins. Why are Hispanics singled out?

by jld on Jan 16, 2010 12:49 am • linkreport

Why are Hispanics singled out?

Because they're the only demographic in the US with growing population?

by MPC on Jan 16, 2010 1:14 am • linkreport

Why are Hispanics singled out?

Because that's not a race, there are white and black hispanic people. It's separate from race.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 16, 2010 7:57 am • linkreport

Following the last census, I participated in the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) reapportionments which each ward held to re-define ANC boundaries (and the Single Member Districts within them.) An odd fact I learned was that for purposes of the census your home on that day is wherever you happen to be ... I learned this when we started questioning why the maps (provided by the Census) showed people living in Dupont Circle, Rock Creek Park, etc. The other oddity is that other centers of population get completely excluded from the census. For example, in my old neighborhood the Chinese embassy used to have a dormitory style housing complex (former hotel) that was used to house hundreds of their staff. But they didn't get counted ... nor did all the other hundreds (or thousands?) of people living on 'officially' foreign land such as these embassy compounds.

Another interesting thing to come out of these censuses is the horsetrading that goes on between Councilmembers over how their Ward boundaries will change. Because the 8 wards must be approximately equal in population size, those wards that grew disproportionately faster in the last 10 years (eg Wards 1 and 2) will need to shed ground. But because shedding one area affects adjacent areas, there's a domino effect. And because the western half of the District is growing in population must faster than the eastern half (which might even be losing population) you end up with some really weird entanglements in the discussions of how to move the boundaries around. (Discussions which get even more weird given that there is no requirement for an ANC to be entirely within a given ward since by their creation in the Home Rule Charter they are technically a '4th' branch of local government and not dependent on or part of any one ward.)

Add to that the political machinations going on and it gets even weirder. Rumor had it last time that several parts of maybe several wards got "thrown out" of their prior wards because ... a politically active person in those parts of those wards was deemed a threat to the incumbent Ward Councilmember hold on his/her seat. Similarly, ward boundaries also got adjusted to ensure that particularly active residents got included (or excluded) from a particular Councilmember's ward.

With all this shifting around going on, neighborhoods and the organizations that define them, will be re-defined. And so may some of the issues we all care about. It'll be an interesting couple of years once the census results get released.

by Lance on Jan 16, 2010 11:37 am • linkreport

So Lance you're saying that the same districting shenanigans that happen in every state happen in DC too? Color me shocked.

by ah on Jan 16, 2010 2:16 pm • linkreport

@ah, yes, of course you're correct. But it's even more interesting here because within the states, the cities towns and counties have defined boundaries which don't get affected by the census. Their political institutions carry on unaffected. In DC, our equivalent, the Ward and ANC boundaries, DO get affected. So, the very basis of the geographical boundaries by which we define (and govern) ourselves come up for grabs Wards and neighborhoods get re-formulated in the image of their governing politicians.

by Lance on Jan 16, 2010 2:26 pm • linkreport

@ Neil: While I acknowledge that Russia geographically covers much of Europe, you know I was not talking about that. And foreigners have to fill out massive amounts of paperwork in any country. My green card application was 4" thick. My visa applications usually stayed under an inch. Not that my own country is any better with immigrants, but still.

@ MPC: I'll take the bait. No, American ideals did not give us fascism and socialism. They gave us genocide of native Americans, slavery perfected, apartheid and Abu Ghraib. Hmmm, something with a pot and a kettle. BTW, putting fascism and socialism next to each other like that shows quite a gap in understanding which is what.

@ Bianchi: Local governments do have those data already. They've given out building permits, haven't they? If only the US would use this technology stuff that you guys invented yourself - the computer and the internet - to collect that data, a census would be unnecessary. I am no constitutional scholar, but I think it only asks for a head count so that congressional districts can be appropriated. It does not specify that everybody should fill out a form.

As for the constitutional changes, I refer to the South-East wall of the Jefferson Memorial.

"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

by Jasper on Jan 16, 2010 2:52 pm • linkreport

"If only the US would use this technology stuff that you guys invented yourself - the computer and the internet - to collect that data, a census would be unnecessary."

Incidentally, the computer was invented Herman Hollerith (called a tabulating machine) and this invention laid the groundwork for the establishment of a company which came to be called "International Business Machines" ... And that first computer/tabulating machine was invented to facilitate the taking of the US Census. Herman Hollerith's company's original facilities are in Georgetown right near the canal.

by Lance on Jan 16, 2010 3:11 pm • linkreport


Of course they're on the opposite end of the spectrum. The fact that they are, and that they both peaked in Europe at around the same time says something about the mentality of Europeans. They're far too willing to invest into the idea of the strong state.

by MPC on Jan 16, 2010 5:41 pm • linkreport

@ MPC: Go read some Dutch history books and see what happened when we had a weak republic. Incidentally, a republic that your country is based on.

Happy though that I got under your skin :-)

by Jasper on Jan 16, 2010 6:27 pm • linkreport

You still haven't seen me at my finest, my friend.

by MPC on Jan 16, 2010 8:28 pm • linkreport

@MPC, I usually like most of what you have to say. However, this time I think you misunderstood Jasper when the word 'socialist' came up. For Europeans, the word solcialist means 'liberal democractic'. It's not the same socialist as in "Soviet Socialist .... " which was in reality "communist" ... i.e. a differnent beast! Socialism most certainly did not 'peak' at the same time as it enemy, fascism, which it vanquished with WWII. 'Socialism' in the European sense, (and maybe in today's USA sense under Obama?) simply means 'liberal democratic' ...

by Lance on Jan 17, 2010 1:53 am • linkreport

Dude hardly. I mean socialism in the sense that post-Depression, the general consensus was that liberal capitalism was outdated.

Look at Wiemar Germany, Franco's Spain, etc. etc. to illustrate my point that in the 1930's, in Europe, the two big forces were Fascists and Socialists (at least on the continent)

It sounds funny, but there were no STABLE (France's republican government was in shambles) liberal democracies on CONTINENTIAL europe until the 1950's, at least in my opinion.

by MPC on Jan 17, 2010 3:02 am • linkreport

@ MPC: It's nice once in a while to out-troll the troll with cold hard facts. This'll allow me to ignore you for a while again. But not before I point out that the US also had its share of repressive leaders, last century. Didn't you guys intern your own citizens for no other reason that their (Japanese) heritage? Didn't you guys to on a witch hunt against the commies, again imprisoning many folks without any decent reason? Didn't you guys have some little civil rights issue in the 60s, complete with 3/5th citizens, murders and a a couple of very rebellious movements? Hmmm, perhaps tomorrow is a good day to think about that.

To conclude this off-topic bogus. It's not very handy to point at others when your own history has quite a few blemishes itself. All regions of the world have had their problems. All with their own proper causes and outcomes. In that sense the Western world (US and EU) shares way more than most folks think.

by Jasper on Jan 17, 2010 11:02 am • linkreport

Repressive leaders? That's a good one.

Maybe we should have been paying more attention to our domestic issues while the S.S. were raping your women. People like speaking German more anyway.

by MPC on Jan 17, 2010 12:59 pm • linkreport

@MPC: You were. The majority of Americans had no interest in getting in another war in Europe. Despite some serious begging from England. That only changed when the Japs were dumb enough to attack Pearl Harbor. And then you had to race your ass of to get to Berlin before Stalin did.

Case and point: The US (and Canada, oh Canada) saved my grand parents' ass. But only reluctantly and barely.

Ok, 'nuff said. Ignore mode on. I call victory through Godwin's law d-:

by Jasper on Jan 17, 2010 2:27 pm • linkreport

Germany invaded Poland in September '39, Pearl Harbor bombed December '41. It's hard to imagine the US today allowing a sovereign nation to invade another without response for more than two years, especially since Germany didn't just invade Poland and then say, "cool, we're done."

Different times then.

by Michael Perkins on Jan 17, 2010 3:36 pm • linkreport

@ Jasper, its much more efficient to have one dataset (US Census) with standardized definitions for the variables then trying to combine multiple datasets (from each county) with their own definitions and probaly not even the same set of variables.

by Bianchi on Jan 18, 2010 12:52 pm • linkreport

@w. I live in an alley too, and it's a constant battle with DC. They don't acknowledge our existence, since we don't have a "real" address as far as DC is concerned, even though the building has a valid C of O. Anyway, the Post Office does know we exist (we even have our own Zip+4) and a Census Bureau canvasser showed up last fall to ask me how many units were in the building, and if any of the other alley dwellings in the block were occupied. So the Census is somewhat on the ball, and use multiple sources to compile their address lists. They don't go solely on DC's Master Address Repository, which is, as you say, full of omissions and errors. It doesn't know what to do with nameless alleys, for one thing.

by Paul on Jan 18, 2010 5:36 pm • linkreport

@ w and Paul: There're at least several precendents in DC for getting alleys named (and thereby 'addressed' by the Post Office; serviced by the snow ploughs, etc.) I don't know the procedure for getting an alley named, but you could probably start with your councilmember's office. If an alley has people living in it who depend on regular city services, it only makes sense that they get them.

by Lance on Jan 18, 2010 5:59 pm • linkreport

Lance & Paul

It's not any problem with naming the alleys- they have had names for well over 100 years in the one alley- and for at least 60 years in my other alley.It is simply a matter of the city not paying attention at all to alley resident's concerns. The police are particularly negligent in this- as there is a main station just a block & a half from my one alley- and yet most of the police cannot find us.

However- I must put in my good word for the DC Fire & Rescue department.
These folks are not only excellent [ they saved my mother's life on numerous occaisions when her health was failing] they are made up of mostly local DC region personell, many are from multi generational fire department families, they take their trainees into all of the local residential alleys and they WALK thru the alleys.

Just this past weekend, the fire & rescue were in gessford practicing on our rofftops with their hook and ladder. These people are DEDICATED and I must say that I am very impressed with them.

As for other agencies, they are a bunch of scum parasites who all live in PG county and rake in the bonuceses from my tax dollars for nothing.

Paul- you should email David Alpert and get in touch with me.

by w on Jan 19, 2010 12:23 pm • linkreport

@Alex B:

I can't help but stir the pot on this one when it comes to the District and the Census:

Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers.....and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct

So, exactly why are the resident's being counted?

by potstirrer on Jan 20, 2010 6:27 pm • linkreport


That clause also counts slaves as three fifths of a person. Suffice it to say that there's been plenty of legislation since then that has established the Census to count all residents in states and in DC (and Puerto Rico, too) - all stemming from that original ennumerated power granted to the Federal Government in Article I.

by Alex B. on Jan 20, 2010 7:45 pm • linkreport

@Alex B

And the 3/5s compromise has superseded by the Thirteenth Amendment.

My point being is nothing in the Constitution is enumerated for counting residents of the District. And in fact, based on its main intent of apportioning representatives, seems rather useless.

And as for the PR comparison, PR residents don't pay federal income taxes, do they?

by potstirrer on Jan 21, 2010 8:36 am • linkreport

Your point is pointless. The Constitution simply enables the Census as a power of the Federal Government, and subsequent legislation has set the parameters for who is counted - and it includes ALL U.S. residents - including those in DC.

Surely you realize that there is more to our legal system than just the Constitution, right? My point about the three-fifths clause is that your reading of a snippet, out of context and without any of the following legislation, doesn't tell you much about the legal details of the situation.

Your point:

My point being is nothing in the Constitution is enumerated for counting residents of the District. meaningless. The Constitution is not the relevant arbiter of the Census Bureau's jurisdiction here.

Furthermore, to address your second point:

And in fact, based on its main intent of apportioning representatives, seems rather useless.

To say that the Census's sole reason to exist is for the apportionment of representatives is a rather narrow thing to say. How can any government effectively provide services to its citizens without knowing how many of them there are? We thrive on basing our decisions on good information - and this is not just for the government - scores of private businesses use Census data in their decision making processes, whether for market research or for product development - having good information is of critical importance to how we function as a nation.

Suffice it to say that such authority is well within the realm of the Federal Government, both as laid out by the Constitution, and has been expanded upon in detail by subsequent legislation.

by Alex B. on Jan 21, 2010 9:05 am • linkreport

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