Population Research and Policy Review 21: 17–18, 2002.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
Comment on “A ﬁrst look at the 21st Century: Census 2000”,
Population and Policy Review, Special Issue: Census 2000
CHARLES B. NAM
820 Live Oak Plantation Road, Tallahassee, FL 32312-2413, U.S.A.
When I joined the Census Bureau’s staff in 1950 as a GS-5 Junior Pro-
fessional, I was told that the census was an ever-changing data-collection
instrument in terms of procedures, format, and content. The ﬁrst census in
1790 was taken by marshals on horseback. They drew up their own census
forms, and there were only a few items of information gathered. In subsequent
decades, census procedures became increasingly formalized, the schedules
were standardized and then mass-produced, and subject items were added
progressively. The census in 1950 was indeed signiﬁcantly different from
earlier ones. It was the ﬁrst to include a sample block of information for a
substantial segment of the population, it used new ﬁeld and ofﬁce procedures
and enhanced post-enumeration inquiries, and it incorporated a wide range of
demographic and socioeconomic items (many of them in the sample block).
From the perspective of Census 2000, the enumeration of 1950 was the
marker for all later censuses. To be sure, changes have taken place. Self-
enumeration essentially replaced interviewers, reﬁnements were added in
ﬁeld operations, and the complete-count and sample items were put on
different schedules. Changes in subject-matter content have been minimal,
however. Virtually all the items in the 2000 Census were on the 1950 Census
forms. There has been tweaking of deﬁnitions and categorizations and oc-
casional items have passed in or out of the enumeration, but we still focus
on the fundamental demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of the
Waldrop and Long give us an ofﬁcial look at what some of that information
indicates about the dynamics of the U.S. population. As good demographers
do, they search for unexpected ﬁndings. So, population growth was a little
faster than in previous decades, the elderly actually declined as a proportion
of all Americans, a decreasing percentage of counties lost population and
metropolitanization continued apace, the Hispanic population overtook the
African-American population numerically, traditional family forms are dis-
appearing, and the dependency ratio (young and old compared to those in
working ages) stands high.