How many people live in your home? That's an easy question, right? If it's just you, your mom and dad, and your two sisters, that would be five people total.
But what about your entire neighborhood? And how many people live in your town? What about your state? How about the whole country? Those aren't so easy to answer, are they? It would probably take quite a while to count all the people in your town, state, and country.
If you look for these population numbers online, you'll find that they do exist. So did someone actually go out and count all these people? Not exactly…but they were counted with the help of something called the census.
The first census after the American Revolution occurred in 1790. Since that time, 22 decennial (every 10 years) censuses have been conducted. The last census happened in 2010, and the next census will take place in 2020.
Why does the government go to the trouble to count everyone every 10 years? It's actually important to know how many people live in the U.S. for a variety of reasons.
For example, our government requires that the House of Representatives in Congress reflect population accurately. Larger states receive more representatives than smaller states. The census results help the government correctly divide up the Congressional seats.
In addition, your tax money is used by the federal government for a variety of things, including schools, hospitals, and roads. Like seats in the House of Representatives, census data helps the government decide how to fairly divide up federal program money based on the number of people being served in an area.
The U.S. Census Bureau uses two methods to count everyone. Questionnaires are mailed to every home in the country and census workers travel door-to-door in certain areas throughout the county. The goal is to count every person living in the United States, regardless of nationality, citizenship status, race, age, or gender.
Unfortunately, not everyone is counted during a census. Some people refuse to give their information to be counted. This can be for a variety of reasons. Some people don't want to give their confidential information to the government. Other people, including illegal immigrants, fear the government will try to make them leave the country if they share their personal information.
To make up for these factors, the U.S. Census Bureau uses statistics and other population information gathered by the states to estimate the number of people who may not have been counted. This can lead the census to be less than completely accurate. However, the U.S. Census Bureau believes that the latest census — in 2010 — was the most accurate census to date.
So how many people are there in the United States? The U.S. Census Bureau projects that, as of January 1, 2012, the total U.S. population is 312,780,963. Given the information and statistical models used by the U.S. Census Bureau, it is expected that the total U.S. population will increase by one person every 17 seconds in 2012.