I just filled out my Census form and I have to say it was fairly painless and simple. The short form (pdf) really only asks about age, ethnicity and other residences. If anyone has a long form (now called the American Community Survey), please let me know your experiences filling that out.
The question concerning residence can be a bit tricky these days with so many people having multiple residences, children who live on their own but visit home frequently and couples who live togetherbut also maintain separate residences.
Then there are questions 8 and 9 (for Person 1) which deal with ethnicity and race. The 2000 Census was the first to allow a person to identify with multiple races which resulted in this 24 page report (pdf). Some people have been upset by the wording of question number 9. Others are upset that Hispanic/Latino/Spanish doesn’t count as a race for the Census, though that seems to be pretty standard practice based on my experience using survey data, such as this research project (pdf) which relied on polls conducted by Gallup, Newsweek or CBS to name a few. For those planning on using the write-in spaces to identify their race should know that those answers will be “converted to the appropriate checkboxes during data processing.” However, the annual American Community Survey (which replaced the decennial long form) which is a sample of about 2.5% of the population goes into more detail to capture a person’s ancestry.
The Census Bureau goes to great lengths to make sure that everyone is counted and included. While some people may be offended by the wording on the Census form it is important to remember that these questions were decided upon in order to be as inclusive as possible and to capture an accurate picture of the country. Visit this informative page for more information.
Jared Lander is the Chief Data Scientist of Lander Analytics a New York data science firm, Adjunct Professor at Columbia University, Organizer of the New York Open Statistical Programming meetup and the New York and Washington DC R Conferences and author of R for Everyone.