NARA expects to digitally release the 1950 population census schedules for researcher use on April 1, 2022, which is 72 years after the official 1950 census day.  This is the 15th in a series of blog posts on the 1950 census.


This is our fourth detailed look at Form P1, Population and Housing Schedule, that was used in most of the United States.  This post will focus on at Items 15 to 19, questions for persons 14 years of age and over.  The next blog post will finish this category with Items 20a, 20b, and 20c.



Item 15 was “What was this person doing most of last week – Working, keeping house, or something else?”  “Last week” referred to the last full week (Sunday through Saturday) before the enumerator’s visit to this household, not the 7 days prior to the official census day of April 1!  Standard responses were “Wk” for working, “H” for keeping house, “U” for unable to work, “Ot” for other, or “Inmate” for persons residing in correctional or mental institutions, homes for the aged or inform, or hospitals for the chronically ill or handicapped.  If “inmate” was recorded for Item 15, then Items 16 through 20c were to be left blank.


Working (“Wk”) included all kinds of paid work “that people do to earn a living for themselves and their families or to earn spending money.” The definition of “Working” included:


  • Work as an employee for someone else for wages or pay “in kind” (meals, living quarters, and so forth);
  • Working for one’s self in business, professional practice, or farming; and
  • Unpaid work, including chores, that contribute to the operation of a farm, business, or professional run by a member of the same household who is a relative either by blood, marriage, or adoption. The typical examples of unpaid work for another family member’s business include working in a father’s store on or the family farm.


The definition of “Working” excluded:

  • Housework, upkeep, or repair on the person’s house;
  • Volunteer work for church, Red Cross, or other organizations; and
  • Unpaid work for others who received the economic benefit of the work.  Typical examples included (1) unpaid work for a non-relative; (2) unpaid work for a relative who was not a household member, such helping out in the beauty shop of a sister who had a separate household; or (3) unpaid work typing for a husband who was employed as a lawyer for a corporation.


Keeping House (“H”) was defined as doing housework, cooking, child care, and forth, for one’s own household. A housewife away on a short vacation or who was temporarily ill during the previous week was still considered to be keeping house.  More than one person in the household could be reported as keeping house.  In contrast, doing paid housework for others in someone else’s home was considered work (“Wk”).


Unable to Work (“U”) was to be recorded for persons whose own long-term physical or mental illness or disability made them unable to do activities that met the definition of work. Such conditions included blindness, loss of limbs, serious heart trouble, tuberculosis, mental disorders, and so forth.  Enumerators were instructed that the use of the “U” code was “not confined to older persons” but that it could be applied to young persons, male or female.  The code was not to be used “for an elderly person who is able to work but believes he is too old to find work.”  Elderly persons were not to be counted as unable to work unless “suffering from a definite illness or disability of long duration.”


Other (“Ot”) was to be used for persons who were attending school, temporarily ill or disabled, or taking a vacation from a job—except housewives!  Temporarily ill or disabled persons were those who expected “to be able to work within 6 months from the time of enumeration.”


Persons who could be coded more than one way were to be reported under “the one at which he [she] spent the most time last week.” For example, a woman who was employed outside the home (Wk) and did housework at home (H) should be reported as "Wk" if she worked more hours at her job than in housekeeping at home.


Item 16 was “Did this person do any work at all last week, not counting work around the house?” This question was to be asked only of those coded as Keeping House (“H”) or Other (“Ot”) in Item 15.  “Yes” was to be recorded if the person “spent at least one hour last week in any of the activities counted as work.”  If less than one hour of work, then “No” was to be reported.


Item 17, “Was this person looking for work?” was to be asked only of those for whom “No” was recorded in Item 16. “Looking for work” included “any effort to get a job or establish a business or profession” including “waiting to hear the results of attempts made within the last 60 days to find a job.”  A few examples of ways to look for work included registration at a public or private employment office; (2) being on call at a personnel office, union hiring hall, nurses’ register, or similar professional registers; (3) meeting with or telephoning prospective employers; (4) placing or answering advertisements; (5) writing letters of application; and (6) working without pay in order to get experience or training.  “Yes” was also to be reported for persons who (1) were on indefinite layoff; (2) were temporarily ill or disabled; or (3) “believed that no work was available in the community or in his line of work.”


Item 18, “Even though he didn’t work last week, does he have a job or business?” was to be asked only of those for whom “No” was recorded in Item 17.  “Yes” was the correct answer if the person had a job or business from which he had been absent all week.  Reasons for absence included illness of the person or a family member, vacation, bad weather, labor dispute, worksite shut down for repairs, waiting to start a new job or business within 30 days, or on temporary lay-off with instructions to report back within 30 days.


If it wasn’t already clear from prior instructions, “Job” was defined as an arrangement for regular work for pay, either full- or part-time.  It also included a “standing arrangement with a single employer to work on call, which may involve an irregular schedule during the month” such as railroad trainmen had.  Seasonal employment was considered a “job” only during the season and not the off-season.


A person had a “business”—including profession or farm operations—if he or she (1) maintained an office, store, other place of business; (2) used machinery or equipment in which he had invested money; and (3) advertised the business or profession in papers, magazines, classified section of telephone book, or other publications, or by displaying a sign, distributing cards, and so forth. Casual workers or handymen were not considered to have a business.


Item 19, How many hours did he work last week? was to be asked of those persons for whom “Wk” was recorded in Item 15 or  “Yes” in Item 16.  The person’s hours spent at all jobs were to be included but lunch break or other time off was to be excluded.  Thus, a person employed at two different jobs would count hours from both jobs, or a person who worked at factory and also did chores on the family farm would count hours from both jobs.  Time spent working on a job outside of regular hours was to be counted, such as the time spent at home by teachers preparing lesson plans or grading papers.  The total was to be rounded to whole numbers, counting 30 minutes or more as one hour.  The enumerator was authorized to help the respondent do the math.


Wow, that was a lot of work to write about work!  And we're not done yet!  In the next blog post, we’ll take a look at Item 20, which was a three-part question that obtained information on the occupation, industry, and class of worker.


Adapted from Form P1, 1950 Census of Population and Housing, and Urban and Rural Enumerator's Reference Manual, 1950 Census of the United States, pages 36-38.