Dissecting the Census: How Demographics Can Help Forecast the Future

UC Riverside professor publishes new book, “The Washington State Census Board and Its Demographic Legacy”

David Swanson

David Swanson

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) – Over the years, demographics have become a critical component used by government entities to predict what services will be needed in the future. David Swanson, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Riverside, looks into the history of how demographics became important with his new book titled “The Washington State Census Board and Its Demographic Legacy.”

Imagine if you could look back over history and explain why things played out the way they did. Or, if lawmakers and politicians could accurately predict a range of future economic factors from gross domestic product growth and inflation to interest rates. Demographics could very well be the answer, explained Swanson.

Swanson's book, "The Washington State Census Board and Its Demographic Legacy.”

Swanson’s book.

His new book details the history of the Washington State Census Board, a pioneer in the widespread use of demographic information for planning and policy.

“This practice was not widely done prior to the 1940s and the Washington State Census Board, which was established in 1943,” he said. “The board began as part of an emergency measure during a massive wartime in-migration. Washington state struggled to keep up with the unexpected needs for housing, transportation, schools, and public utilities for the hundreds of thousands of migrants who came to work in industries that practically developed overnight with the mobilization for World War II.”

In the book, Swanson recounts how Professor Calvin F. Schmid (University of Washington) who led the Washington State Census Board, and his team developed methods of population estimation that are still in use today. It reveals how population figures were gathered, compared, and projected at a time when the hand calculator was considered cutting-edge technology. Swanson also details how methods were refined and improved over time as well as how those involved developed new ways to obtain and, more importantly, utilize the information.

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David Swanson
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