Every 10 years, as specified in the U.S. Constitution, the Census Bureau conducts a count of every single person in the land. At least, that's the theory. It only works if each of those people cooperates and participates.
This April 1 is Census day for this decade. The last time it happened was April 1, 2000, and it won't happen again until April 1 (presumably) 2020. Every household is to respond to the questionnaire as of that day. Not the day before or the day after. [I was so disappointed that my son barely missed getting counted in the 1980 census—he was born a week later!]
The form is very short and only takes a few minutes to complete. You can take a look at it here. The more detailed questions that used to be a part of the Census are taken care of in the American Community Survey, which is an ongoing survey and only questions a sample of the population.
Simple as it is, there are a couple of areas you might have questions about:
- If you live on campus, your parents shouldn't count you on their form at home. You'll be counted in the dormitory. Here's more information on this count.
- The Census folks intend for Hispanic origin (which has only be noted since the 1970 Census, by the way) to be considered a separate characteristic from race. That's why there are two separate questions on the form. But race is self-reported. So if you're not comfortable marking white or African-American for race, there's a place for you to fill in what you consider yourself. The whole race question is very complicated and fraught with linguistic, emotional, and political baggage. The Library's Census guide has a section on comparability of Census data in this area. But suffice it to say that a perfect solution has yet to be devised.
- If you have any questions about getting a form or filling it out, here are some information phone numbers.