The 1940 census, is no different than the others before, Census records are the only records that describe the entire population of the United States on a particular day. The answers given to the census takers tell us, in detail, what the United States looked like on April 1, 1940, and what issues were most relevant to Americans after a decade of economic depression.
The 1940 census reflects economic tumult of the Great Depression and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal recovery program of the 1930s. Between 1930 and 1940, the population of the Continental United States increased 7.2% to 131,669,275.
Besides name, age, relationship, and occupation, the 1940 census included questions about internal migration; employment status; participation in the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Works Progress Administration (WPA), and National Youth Administration (NYA) programs; and years of education.
Unlike more recent censuses, the 1940 census was taken entirely by census enumerators going door to door and collecting information. If a person wasn’t home when the census taker came, the census taker would make a return visit. People who were counted on return visits are listed at the end of the regular pages for the enumeration district on pages that begin with number 61.
There were also separate pages for people living in a hotel tourist home, or trailer camp. These people were to be counted on April 8th and 9th. Their census information begins on page 81A for each enumeration district. Sometimes the entries for people who were enumerated later and those in tourist homes and trailer camps are less than one page each, while they can go on for several pages in large urban areas. In some enumeration districts, there were no such entries and do not have a page 61 or page 81.
Internal migration: The Census Bureau, interested in internal migration, asked everyone where he or she lived on April 1, 1935. The census also asked if people were living at the same address in 1940 as they had been on April 1, 1935.
Employment status: The census asked 13 questions about the employment status of people 14 years old and older. Included were new questions about the “Amount of money, wages, or salary received (including commissions)” (column 32) and “Did this person receive income of $50 or more from sources other than money wages or salary (Y or N)” (column 33).
New Deal programs: The census asked if anyone in the household during the week of March 24–30, 1940, was at work on, or assigned to, public emergency work projects conducted by the WPA, the NYA, the CCC, or state or local work relief agencies. The WPA, established May 6, 1935, developed programs to move unemployed workers from relief to jobs. The WPA workers, among other things, rebuilt the national infrastructure, wrote guides to the 48 states, worked in the arts and theater, and assisted with disaster relief. The NYA, established under the WPA, gave part-time jobs to high school and college students to earn money to continue their education. The CCC, created March 31, 1933, employed men aged 18–25 in conservation work in the national parks and forests.
Supplement schedules: At the bottom of each schedule, a supplementary census asked additional questions of two people enumerated on preselected lines on the form. The question of the parents’ birthplace was moved to the supplemental schedule, in columns 36–37. Veterans (columns 39–41) were asked if they served in the World War, Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, or Boxer Rebellion and if in a Regular Establishment (Army, Navy, or Marine Corps), peacetime service only, or another war or expedition. The supplemental schedule also asked about participation in two national insurance plans—Social Security and Railroad Retirement (columns 42–44).
Territorial censuses: The 1940 census includes territorial censuses for Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, Panama Canal, Puerto Rico, and American Virgin Islands.
Every ten years since 1790, the federal census has provided a snapshot of the American public. The 1940 census recorded that critical period in American history as the country was still recovering from the Great Depression and before its entry into World War II. This census will prove to be invaluable to genealogists, historians, demographers, and others for years to come.
The 1940 census records were released by the US National Archives April 2, 2012.