Statistics Students Learn About U.S. Census

Ben Irwin (center) with teacher John Schatz (in red) with students

Mr. Irwin leads the media team for the Boston Regional Census Office, and as a former member of the school’s communication staff is a familiar face on campus. He explained the Constitutional mandate requiring a decennial census as the basis for apportioning Congressional seats and allocating Federal funds (over $400 billion annually). He said that government agencies and nonprofits rely on the data in planning public services and in advocating on behalf of underserved populations, making responding to the Census both a civic duty and a social justice imperative. He said the questionnaire is available in six languages, including an English/Spanish bilingual form, and 59 language guides to help non-English speaking residents comply, and Census enumerators are deployed to physically count the homeless.

To ensure as complete and accurate a headcount as possible, the Bureau has developed a partnership program to work with schools, faith-based groups and community organizations to reach out to traditionally hard-to-count segments like immigrants and undocumented residents. He stressed that all Census employees swear an oath for life to maintain the strict confidentiality of individual data, which is not released for 72 years, and that the data are not shared with the INS — yet a general mistrust of government keeps some from responding.

A question of particular interest to the seniors in Mr. Schatz’s class was where college students living away from home should respond. Mr. Irwin said college students should complete the Census form they receive at school so they are counted in the towns where they are living and using public services; their parents should not include them on the family’s home form.

This year the Census Bureau has expanded its media outreach to include social media like Facebook ( and Twitter ( Distributing the Census electronically is under consideration, though there are still significant security concerns and Internet access issues to resolve.

Mr. Schatz assigned a “US Census Scavenger Hunt” as homework. First, students made educated guesses to a list of demographic questions, and then they used the 2000 Census data available online (at to find the correct answers.

An example:

For Beaver’s zip code (02467), what percentage is:

White = 82.2%
Black or African American = 2.8%
Asian = 11.7%
Hispanic or Latino = 3.4%
25+-year-olds with a Bachelor’s degree or higher = 73.4%
Families below the poverty level = 5.0%

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