DEFINITION of Bureau of Census

The Bureau of Census is a division of the federal government of the United States Department of Commerce that is responsible for conducting the national census at least once every 10 years, in which the population of the United States is counted. Also known as the "United States Census Bureau", The Bureau is responsible for collecting data on the people, economy and country of the United States.

BREAKING DOWN Bureau of Census

Data collected by the Bureau of Census is analyzed and used by policymakers who govern the country and make economic decisions that affect business on a day-to-day basis. The Bureau of Census collects data on the balance of trade and foreign import and export, and it reports data to the government and the public at large. Some of the data collected by the Bureau of Census is used by the Conference Board to produce its Composite Indexes of Leading, Lagging and Coincident Indicators.

The Census

The first census, mandated by the U.S. Constitution, was conducted in 1790 by marshals on horseback, and found that 3,929,214 people lived in the country, with the three most populous states being Virginia (747,610), Pennsylvania (434,373), and North Carolina (393,751). A decennial census steadily expanded throughout the nineteenth century.

"By the turn of the century, the demographic, agricultural, and economic segments of the decennial census collected information on hundreds of topics. The work of processing these data kept the temporary Census Office open for almost all the decades following the 1880 and 1890 censuses," notes the bureau. "Recognizing the growing complexity of the decennial census, Congress enacted legislation creating a permanent Census Office within the Department of the Interior on March 6, 1902. On July 1, 1902, the U.S. Census Bureau officially opened its doors under the leadership of William Rush Merriam."

The Census Office was moved to the newly created Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903, and when Commerce and Labor split into separate departments in 1913, the bureau stayed with Commerce.

The bureau's programs can be split into the broad categories of demographic surveys and economic surveys.  Demographic includes the Decennial Census of Population and Housing, The American Community Survey, The Current Population Survey, The Survey of Income and Program Participation and The American Housing Survey. 

Economic includes a survey of manufacturers, construction, mineral, service, financial, insurance, and real estate industries; surveys of minority- and women-owned businesses; and many more. Also included are surveys and data on foreign trade, economic census, classifying businesses, and collection of IRS data about households and businesses.