When you complete your census form, you’re not just doing your duty under the law, you’re helping provide a treasure trove of information that helps us accomplish our mission. Information gathered by the U.S. Census guides our programming and is an essential tool of historical research.
The Census Helps Us Learn and Share Our Community's Story
Census statistics help us understand the community. Data from the Census tells us the age, education and income of residents; the mix of homeowners, renters and others such as college students; the occupations of people in the neighborhood; the number of children who live here, and other vital information. For example, from the one analysis of the last Census we learned that we truly represent “The World in One Neighborhood.” Almost 28,000 households in our community speak a language other than English in the home, for a total of more than 30 different languages.
We use the profile of our community to describe the people we serve when we ask for contributions from charitable foundations and potential business sponsors. Foundations and sponsors want to know how the resources they provide will be a benefit to the people they want to support, and the census gives us the answers to their questions.
We use historical census data when we research the history of a person or property in our community. To protect privacy, your individual census information is not made available until 70 years after a census is taken, but as a historical resource, old census data is invaluable. Using publicly available census reports from Chicago’s earliest settlement to 1940, we can identify where historically important individuals lived, what they did for a living, who else lived in their households, and lots of other information.
We use historic census data to share the stories of the homes in our annual Historic House Walk, and to guide our Property History Quest projects.
Comparing trends from one census to another sheds light on important changes in the neighborhood. One example: by comparing the estimated home values, monthly rents and the number of people living at the same address in 1930 and 1940 census reports, we can see how the Great Depression affected our community. These comparisons almost always show a sharp decrease in property value, and an increase in family members or added boarders from 1930 to 1940, reflecting ways that individual households coped with hard economic times.by
Tracking changes over blocks or larger areas provides historical insights. We can look at how the population of a block changed in ethnic origin, educational level or income by comparing reports from the same addresses across several census decades. For instance, successive census reports show how the occupational mix of residents in the historic West Ridge bungalow districts changed from the builders, architects and skilled craftsmen who built the bungalows in the 1920s to the business executives, artists, professional athletes and white collar workers who occupied the neighborhood by 1940.
We’re excited about the release of the 1950 Census, expected to come in the next year or so. That’s why we can say that when you answer the 2020 Census, you leave a gift that will be excitedly awaited by historians of 2090 and beyond.