What Is the Bureau of Census?

The U.S. Census Bureau is a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System that is responsible for conducting the national census at least once every 10 years. The population of the U.S. is counted in the census. The Bureau is responsible for producing data about the American people and the economy. The Census Bureau is a division of the United States Department of Commerce.

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. Census Bureau is a principal agency of the U.S. Federal Statistical System that is responsible for conducting the national census at least once every 10 years.
  • The Bureau is responsible for producing data about the American people and the economy.
  • The Census Bureau is a division of the United States Department of Commerce.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau has been headquartered in Suitland, Maryland since 1942.

Understanding the Bureau of Census

Data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau 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 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 is used by the Conference Board to produce its Composite Indexes of Leading, Lagging, and Coincident Indicators.

Special Considerations

The U.S. Census

The first U.S. census, mandated by the U.S. Constitution, was conducted in 1790 by marshals on horseback. At that time, the census results revealed 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 1800s, the census collected vital information about the demographic, agricultural, and economic segments of the country as well. At this time, the Census Office was a temporary office, but the work of processing all of these data points kept the office open for many decades. Congress enacted legislation creating a permanent Census Office within the Department of the Interior on March 6, 1902.

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 within the Commerce division.

Today, the Bureau's mission is to serve as the nation's leading provider of quality data about the people and economy of the U.S. The U.S. Census Bureau has been headquartered in Suitland, Maryland since 1942, and currently employs about 4,285 staff members. The Bureau's programs can be split into two broad categories: demographic surveys and economic surveys. Demographic surveys include 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 surveys include a survey of manufacturers, construction, mineral, service, financial, insurance, and real estate industries; surveys of minority- and women-owned businesses; among others. Also included are surveys and data on foreign trade, economic census, classifying businesses, and collection of IRS data about households and businesses.