The 1930 Census

By Potter, Lee Ann | Social Education, April 2002 | Go to article overview

The 1930 Census


Potter, Lee Ann, Social Education


In the spring of 1930, the Bureau of the Census temporarily employed nearly 87,800 individuals as enumerators for the Fifteenth Census of the United States. Each was at least eighteen years old, a U.S. citizen, and had successfully filled out a test census schedule. The test included a narrative description of families and farms in a hypothetical community and a blank schedule. Potential enumerators read the narrative and completed the schedule on the basis of its contents. Interestingly, the blank schedule that was part of the test was not the final 1930 census schedule. Thus, the purpose of the test was not to familiarize applicants with the 1930 census questions, but to assess their ability to follow directions and to make sense of people's answers, so as to record the data correctly. The document featured in this article is an example of a completed test population schedule.

The Bureau of the Census mailed 336,890 test schedules to prospective enumerators and received 197,950 completed tests. After they were corrected and graded by the Bureau in Washington, D.C, supervisors across the country were provided with lists of applicants in their district who had successfully passed the test. From these lists, the supervisors, who were responsible for the completeness and accuracy of their district's census, selected enumerators. Preference, wherever possible, was given to veterans. Because the Census Act of June 18, 1929, did not require enumerators to hold civil service status, to a certain extent political patronage played a role in the selection enumerators.

Ones selections were made, the Bureau provided each enumerator with a ninety-page instruction booklet, necessary schedules, blank forms, illustrated examples of completed schedules, a portfolio, a certificate of appointment, and other supplies. The instruction booklet gave enumerators 456 specific instructions.

Instructions ranged from how to care for schedules and deal with untruthful replies to how to contact a supervisor. Enumerators were to keep schedules in a safe place, not to accept false statements, and to communicate with supervisors through the mail--except in cases of emergency, when the use of a telephone or telegraph was authorized. Instruction number 15 gave enumerators their charge: "It is your duty personally to visit every family and farm within your territory; to obtain the information required with reference to them; and to enter the same on the census schedule." Instruction number 20 forbade enumerators from communicating to "any person any information" obtained in the discharge of his or her official duties and explained the penalty for doing so. Disclosing any information could result in a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment for up to two years.

Most enumerators' territories consisted of a single enumeration district. As there were 120,105 separate districts, however, some enumerators were assigned more than one. Enumerators were to devote at least eight hours per day to canvassing, beginning on April 2. They were to work alone and were not to combine their work for the Census Bureau with any other occupation. They were to complete the Population Schedule for every household by hand, and other schedules as necessary, including the Unemployment Schedule and the General Farm Schedule. At the end of each day, enumerators were to mail report cards to their supervisor, informing them of the work completed. The enumeration was to be completed within two weeks for districts that had 2,500 inhabitants or more in the 1920 census, and within thirty days in all other districts.

Enumerators were paid a piece rate that amounted to $.04 or $.05 per person enumerated and $.40 or $.50 per farm enumerated. Under exceptional circumstances, enumerators could earn up to $.20 per person and up to $5.00 per farm.

The enumerators' work and the census in general were followed closely in the news media. …

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The 1930 Census
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