The first U.S. Census was taken in 1790, under the leadership of George Washington. The goal at the time was to determine how many men were available to serve in the military. U.S. Marshals and their assistants were distributed to different parts of what made up the early U.S. territories, with books and sheets bought at their expense, to account for the number of white males, white females, free taxpayers (including native Americans) and slaves. After 18 months, the 1790 census counted 3.9 million people, and 105 U.S. representatives.
The original intent of the census was to keep track of the number of people and political leaders, and it wasn't until 1810 that the first industry data was included. First it was manufacturing in 1810, agriculture, mining and fishing in 1840, then taxes, churches, the poor, and crime were later added in 1850. As you can see, the census is taken every 10 years although it has since expanded to include all types of data about the economy.
It was never an exact science, even back under Washington's leadership. Not everyone and everything is accounted for, although the census is one of the most relied upon source of data since its time. The information collected reveals a lot about the economy, including the types of resources available and when analyzed carefully, how efficiently those resources are being used. The census is now quoted by every academic, media, and research institution available.
A 2005 research paper released by the National Council on Economic Education found that although 97% of adults and 93% of high school students believed economics was very important to grasp, only 34% of adults and 9% of students earned a grade of A or B on an Economics Quiz given by the council. The good news is that understanding economics increased as one aged.
The study of economics has been referred to as the dismal science. Specifically why is up to debate, but personally I believe it's because the statistics that make up economic activity can be very disappointing. There is poverty to study and the best way to allocate limited resources. The field can get very specific about macro and micro economics. As the words suggest, it's looking at how the economy operates at a larger and smaller level.
No doubt that economics is important. Understanding the forces that drive our economy benefits the consumer on so many levels. There's interest rates to understand and how the financial marketplace worrks, the limitations of opportunity costs, the national budget and the labor force. Imagine how many consumers would have been spared their homes and finances over the past eighty years had they understood basic economics?
The Census Bureau makes it easier now than ever to catch up on these trends. It has created a special link that guides users to various tools on how to gather and understand economic indicators. The bureau has recently added a training and workshop option available to anyone who is interested in learning how to create charts, graphs, or research certain topics. There is a wealth of information available on everything that makes the economy function. Whether you're engaged in research or not, exposure to the site will help any layperson understand economic activity. Visit the site at http://www.census.gov/data.html and see for yourself.