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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As in 1930 and 1940, the 1950 Census was conducted according to the terms of the Fifteenth Census Act. The enumeration began on April 1, 1950, with 90 percent of the population having been enumerated by the end of the month (weather delayed enumeration in some areas until mid-May). All but 1 percent of the population had been enumerated by the end of June 1950.
The 1950 census encompassed the continental United States, the Territories of Alaska and Hawaii, American Samoa, the Canal Zone, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands of the United States, and some of the smaller islands and island groups within the United States’ possession.1 The census also made special provisions for the enumeration of American citizens living abroad (and their dependents), including the armed forces of the United States, employees of the United States Government, and the crews of vessels in the American Merchant Marine at sea or in foreign ports.
The census of Americans living abroad was attempted through cooperative arrangements with the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the United States Maritime Administration, and other federal agencies concerned. These agencies took the responsibility for the distribution and collection of specially designed census questionnaires for individuals and households. Other persons living abroad were to be reported by their families or neighbors in the United States; however, the quality of these data was considered suspect and they were not included in the published statistics.
Procedures to improve coverage. Several aids were employed to improve the completeness of the 1950 Census coverage. The most prominent were as follows:
Following these procedures improved the coverage of the 1950 census over that of the 1940census.2 (The components of population change were probably estimated more accurately during the 1940s than for the 1930s because not all states were consistently registering births and deaths until 1933.)
Post-Enumeration Survey. The 1950 census was further checked using a post-enumeration survey, in which a re-enumeration, on a sample basis, was conducted. The Census Bureau recanvassed a probability sample of about 3,500 small areas and compared these to the original census listings to identify households omitted from the enumeration. In addition to the check for omitted households, a sample of about 22,000 households was reinterviewed to determine the number of persons omitted in cases where the household had been included.
The Post-Enumeration Survey interviewers were given intensive training and supervision. Efforts were made to limit respondents to the person who was presumably best informed regarding the information desired, i.e., the person themselves. These precautions resulted in an expense per case in the Post-Enumeration Survey many times that of the original enumeration, and affordable only on a sample-basis.
1Although some smaller islands and island groups did not participate in the census, data for their populations were collected from other sources and included in the 1950 census.
2For the decade 1930 to 1940, application of these methods suggests that the total net number of persons missed in the 1940 Census may have been about 1,300,000 more than that missed in 1930.