The census tells us who we are and where we are going as a nation. The census helps our communities determine where to build everything from schools to supermarkets, and from homes to hospitals. It helps the government decide how to distribute funds and assistance to states and localities. It is also used to draw the lines of legislative districts and reapportion the seats each State holds in Congress.
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Under the direction of William M. Steuart, Director of the Census, and in accordance with the Fifteenth Census Act, approved June 18, 1929, “a census of population, agriculture, irrigation, drainage, distribution, unemployment, and mines [was] taken by the Director of the Census” on April 1, 1930. The census encompassed each state and Washington, DC, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. A census of Guam, Samoa, and the Virgin Islands was taken in the same year by the islands’ respective governors, and a census of the Panama Canal Zone was taken by the governor of that area.
In addition to population data, the 1930 census also collected the following statistics:
Data from families and establishments were transferred to punch cards—approximately 300,000,000 in all1 —and were processed by electronic sorting and “automatic tabulating machine” at the rate of approximately 400 per minute. These tabulations provided the raw data necessary for the compilation of statistical tables prepared by clerks and statisticians.2
A census of Unemployment was conducted, in conjunction with the 1930 census, by an act of May 3, 1928. This special enumeration collected data on persons who usually worked for wages or a salary, but were not working at the time the census was taken.
William M. Steuart, Director of the Census, said “the results of the [unemployment] census will furnish a picture of the unemployment situation as indicated not only by the number of unemployed but by the attendant circumstance of unemployment. It will bring the answer to certain fundamental questions about which nothing definite is known at present. Obviously, something more than a mere knowledge of the number of persons out of work is needed, if we are to measure fairly and accurately, without exaggeration and without understatement, the gravity of the unemployment situation. We need the census to know the facts.3”
Enumerators were instructed to complete an unemployment schedule for every person responding “No” in column 25 of the general population schedule. The “unemployed” were grouped into two classes—those having a job but temporarily laid-off on account of a lack of orders, weather, sickness, etc.; and those who were unemployed but want to work.
The unemployment census provided data concerning the number of men and women unemployed the average age of the unemployed, how many of the unemployed were married and single, how long they had been out of work, and the leading reasons for unemployment in the United States. Data were made available for the Nation, individual segments of the population (i.e., by age, race, marital status, etc.), and for the foreign-born and native populations.
1 Approximately 125,000,000 punch cards were used to tabulate the data for the population. Fifteen or more cards were required for each farm, thus, the census of agriculture comprised an additional 150,000,000 cards.