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1950
Component ID: #ti2073682187

Information about the 1950 Census

As in 1930 and 1940, the 1950 Census was conducted according to the terms of the Fifteenth Census Act. The enumeration began on April 1, 1950, with 90 percent of the population having been enumerated by the end of the month (weather delayed enumeration in some areas until mid-May). All but 1 percent of the population had been enumerated by the end of June 1950.

The 1950 census encompassed the continental United States, the Territories of Alaska and Hawaii, American Samoa, the Canal Zone, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands of the United States, and some of the smaller islands and island groups within the United States’ possession.1 The census also made special provisions for the enumeration of American citizens living abroad (and their dependents), including the armed forces of the United States, employees of the United States Government, and the crews of vessels in the American Merchant Marine at sea or in foreign ports.

The census of Americans living abroad was attempted through cooperative arrangements with the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the United States Maritime Administration, and other federal agencies concerned. These agencies took the responsibility for the distribution and collection of specially designed census questionnaires for individuals and households. Other persons living abroad were to be reported by their families or neighbors in the United States; however, the quality of these data was considered suspect and they were not included in the published statistics.

Procedures to improve coverage. Several aids were employed to improve the completeness of the 1950 Census coverage. The most prominent were as follows:

  • A longer and better planned period of training was provided for enumerators.
  • Each enumerator was furnished with a map of his enumeration district, showing the boundaries of the area for which they were responsible.
  • An infant card had to be completed for each baby born after January 1, 1950 (since experience had shown that babies are easily missed).
  • A crew leader was assigned to supervise each group of approximately 15 enumerators. The crew leader was responsible for helping enumerators with “problem cases” and for spot-checking a sample of the dwelling units assigned to them.
  • A special enumeration of persons in hotels, tourist courts, and other places where transients usually pay for quarters was made the night of April 11, 1950. “Missed Person” forms were published in newspapers at the end of the field canvassing operations so persons who thought they had been missed could complete a form and mail it to the district supervisors.
  • District supervisors made preliminary announcements of the population counted so that any complaints concerning the completeness of the enumeration could be submitted before the field offices were closed. If the evidence indicated an appreciable undercount, a re-enumeration of the area was conducted.
  • Rates of population change were studied to evaluate the enumeration’s completeness.
  • Vital and immigration statistics were used in conjunction with census data. (Since the population at a given census should represent the population at the previous census, with additions and subtractions resulting from births, deaths, and immigration, it is possible to calculate the expected population on a given census date and compare the actual total received.)

Following these procedures improved the coverage of the 1950 census over that of the 1940census.2 (The components of population change were probably estimated more accurately during the 1940s than for the 1930s because not all states were consistently registering births and deaths until 1933.)

Post-Enumeration Survey. The 1950 census was further checked using a post-enumeration survey, in which a re-enumeration, on a sample basis, was conducted. The Census Bureau recanvassed a probability sample of about 3,500 small areas and compared these to the original census listings to identify households omitted from the enumeration. In addition to the check for omitted households, a sample of about 22,000 households was reinterviewed to determine the number of persons omitted in cases where the household had been included.

The Post-Enumeration Survey interviewers were given intensive training and supervision. Efforts were made to limit respondents to the person who was presumably best informed regarding the information desired, i.e., the person themselves. These precautions resulted in an expense per case in the Post-Enumeration Survey many times that of the original enumeration, and affordable only on a sample-basis.

1Although some smaller islands and island groups did not participate in the census, data for their populations were collected from other sources and included in the 1950 census.

2For the decade 1930 to 1940, application of these methods suggests that the total net number of persons missed in the 1940 Census may have been about 1,300,000 more than that missed in 1930.

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