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 16th in a series of blog posts on the 1950 census.


This is our fifth detailed look at the Form P1, Population and Housing Schedule, that was used in most of the United States.  This post will focus on the final questions for all persons 14 years of age and over:  Items 20a, 20b, and 20c.


Item 20 was a three-part question that obtained information on (a) occupation, (b) industry, and (c) class of worker.  All three parts were to be answered for all persons for whom “Wk” was recorded in Item 15 or “Yes” in Items 16, 17, or 18.  All three parts needed to be answered in a consistent logical answer, as will be more fully discussed below.  For example, “Barber, Retail Jewelry Store, P” is illogical because one would not expect to find a barber employed at a jewelry store.  Instead, correct answers might be “Barber, Barber Shop, P” or “Jewelry Salesman, Jewelry Store, P.”



Item 20a, What kind of work was he [or she] doing?  The person’s job title was usually the best short description of his or her work, such as auto mechanic, math teacher, or registered nurse.  If the enumerator was given a lengthy explanation like “My husband runs a machine that takes dough and cuts it up before it is put into the oven” it could be simplified to “dough cutting machine operator.”  The enumerator might be confronted with a description for which it was hard to think up a simple title.  If the respondent said, “My husband nails heels on shoes” it was satisfactory for the enumerator to write “nails heels on shoes” on the census schedule.


The enumerator was given many additional instructions:


  • If the person worked at two or more jobs, the enumerator was instructed to describe the job at which person worked the greatest number of hours last week.
  • If the person was looking for work (“Yes” in Item 17), then he or she was to describe their last job or business.
  • If the person never had a job or business, such as a young person looking for a first job, then “never worked” was to be recorded in Item 20a and dashes entered in Items 20b and 20c.
  • If the person was waiting to start a new job, the new job was to be described rather than the previous job.
  • Members of the Armed Forces were to be reported as “Armed Forces” in 20a with dashes entered in Items 20b and 20c. “Armed Forces” included persons on active duty with the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.  The Armed Forces did not include members of the merchant marine or civilian employees of the Departments of Defense, Army, Air Force, or Navy.
  • “Strange or funny” occupational titles were to be accepted if the respondent was sure the title was correct.  Examples included “sand hog” for certain workers engaged in construction of underwater tunnels or “printer’s devil” for apprentice printers.
  • Young persons who claimed professional, technical, or skilled occupational titles were to be questioned further to determine if the correct designation was really trainee, apprentice, or helper, such as accountant trainee, apprentice electrician, or electrician’s helper.
  • Vague words were to be avoided.  Instead of “adjuster” more specific descriptions like claims adjuster, brake adjuster, machine adjuster, complaint adjuster, or insurance adjuster were to be recorded.  Instead of “tester” the particular type of tester was to be noted, such as cement tester, instrument tester, engine tester, battery tester, and so forth.



Item 20b, What kind of business or industry was he [or she] working in? The answer was to clearly and specifically identify the kind of business or industry in which the person was employed, taking pains to distinguish between manufacturing, wholesale, or retail establishments, such as shoe factory, wholesale shoe company, retail shoe store, shoe repair shop, and so forth. What’s the difference between manufacturing, wholesaling, and retailing? An establishment that produced products was the be reported as a factory.  A wholesale establishment sold primarily to retailers, industrial users, and even other wholesalers. Retail establishments sold products primarily to individual customers.  Additional guidance included:

  • Company names were not to be entered.
  • Governmental employers were to be indicated as Federal, State, city, county, and so forth.  The function of the agency was to be indicated, such as state hospital or city grammar school.  If an agency’s function was “purely governmental” then it was acceptable to indicate the agency’s name, such as U.S. Bureau of Internal Revenue or City License Board.
  • If a business carried on multiple activities in the same place, the major activity of the establishment was to be recorded.  Thus, a salesman who worked in a shoe factory’s on-site retail shop was to be reported as employed at a shoe factory.  If the company’s activities were carried on in multiple locations, the business in which the person actually worked was to be reported.  Thus, a miner working in a coal mine owned by a large steel company was to be reported as working at a coal mine not a steel manufacturer.
  • Home-based business were to be reported just as if they were carried on in regular stores or shops.
  • Vague words were to be avoided. For example, instead of “agency” the enumerator was to specify collection agency, advertising agency, real estate agency, employment agency, travel agency, and so forth.  Instead of “lumber company” the enumerator was to specify logging camp, saw mill, planing mill, wholesale lumber company, retail lumber yard, and so forth.



Item 20c, Class of Worker, indicated broad employment categories, with “P” for private employers; “G” for government employers; “O” for those who owned their own businesses; and “NP” for those who worked without pay on a family farm or business.  There are a few special items to note:


  • The work for private employer (“P”) code was to be recorded for:
    • Employees of nonprofit establishments such as churches, settlement houses, and unions.
    • Domestic workers in other persons’ homes (“Maid, Private Family, P”).
    • Farm workers or others who received pay in-kind such as room and board, except as noted below under “NP.
    • Persons who worked at odd jobs or on a casual basis.


  • The work for government employer (“G”) code was to be recorded for:
    • Employees of all federal, state, county, city, village, and other units of government, including public schools, and government-owned bus lines, government-owned electric power companies, and the like.
    • Employees of international governmental organizations like the United Nations.
    • Employees of foreign government embassies or consulates.


  • The work in one’s own business (“O”) code was:
    • For persons who worked for profit or fees in their own business, farm, shop, office, and so forth.
    • For persons who were partners in a business.
    • For farmers, sharecroppers, and tenant farmers.
    • Not for corporate employees who owned shares in the business for which they worked for wages or a salary.


  • The work without pay (“NP”) code was to be recorded for unpaid family members who worked on a family farm or in a family business even if they received room, board, and a cash allowance.  Only family members who received “money which is definitely considered to be wages for work performed” were to be recorded as “P” instead of “NP.”


  • Clergymen were usually reported as “P.”  However, clergy who were not attached to one particular church or congregation but conducted religious services in various places on a fee basis were to be reported as “O” while those who worked as a prison chaplain or some other civilian government job were to be reported as “G.”


The Census Bureau's great attention to the "work" question surely indicates this three-part question would cause the enumerators a lot of work, too! 


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 39-46.