What is the decennial census?

The census is required by the Constitution, and has been conducted since 1790. Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a census to count everyone living in all 50 states, D.C. and 5 U.S. Territories (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). 

Why do we have a census?

Census data is used by the government in a variety of important decisions, including allocation of nearly $1 trillion in federal funds each year; determination of where roads, bridges, and schools will be built; and apportionment of federal, state, and local government representatives for communities.

Who is counted in the Census?

Everyone living in all 50 states, D.C. & 5 U.S. Territories is required to complete the census, regardless of immigration or citizenship status When you respond to the census, you tell the Census Bureau where you live as of April 1, 2020. 

How is the census taken?

By April 1, every household will receive an invitation to complete the census either online, by phone, or by mail. There are special efforts underway by the Census Bureau to count the homeless and people living in group quarters such as nursing homes, student dormitories, and prisons. For more information about special circumstances, visit https://2020census.gov/en/who-to-count.html

What questions will be asked on the census?

The 2020 census will ask questions such as:

  • How many people are living or staying in the household as of April 1, 2020
  • If the home is owned or rented 
  • The sex of each person in the home
  • The race of each person in the household
  • The age and date of birth of each person in the home
  • A phone number for a person in the home
  • Whether each person in the home is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin
  • About the relationship of each person in the home to a central person in the household

The census will not ask about citizenship or immigration status. 

Is the census only in English?

  • Internet or telephone: English plus 12 other languages (Find the 13 phone numbers by language here.)
  • Paper: English questionnaires and Bilingual English/Spanish questionnaires
    • Bilingual census tracts designated according to “language-spoken-at-home” metrics Census Bureau set. Will receive materials (all bilingual) via Internet First, Internet Choice, or Update/Leave contact strategy. Find bilingual census tracts on the Census Hard to Count map.
    • Households that didn’t receive bilingual English-Spanish paper questionnaire cannot get one by calling the Census Bureau. Stakeholders will urge these households to respond online or by telephone)
  • Instruction guides, glossaries, and ID cards: English plus 59 other languages and large print are available here.

Is information taken by the census private?

The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to keep identifiable information confidential. Under Title 13, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. Census workers take an lifetime oath to protect the privacy of respondents and face jail time and/or heavy fines if they violate that oath.

Why should nonprofits care about the census?

Many communities that are served by nonprofits are at risk of being undercounted in the census, resulting in less funding and resources being allocated to those communities. Groups traditionally undercounted include communities of color, low-income households, immigrants, and young children.

Where are people counted?

  • At their “usual place of residence” (where they live and sleep most of the time)
  • College students living away from home—at their college residence
  • Incarcerated persons—at the prison/jail facility
  • People experiencing homelessness—1) Service-Based Enumeration; (2) Enumeration at Transitory Locations; or (3) at the home where they are staying, however temporary, if there is no other “usual residence
What’s the timeline?

  • Households can self-respond before April 1 and through September 30
  • Paper questionnaires must be postmarked by Sept. 30 will be delivered to a Census Bureau processing center by Oct. 7 to be counted under the current operational timeline
  • All households (except in Update/Enumerate areas) can self-respond by internet (starting March 12), telephone (starting March 12; toll-free lines open earlier in March for questions only), and paper questionnaire (80% get a letter with a unique ID, inviting internet response. 20% get similar a letter plus paper questionnaire in first mailing)
  • Due to COVID-19, the Census Bureau has made some adjustments to its timeline. You can view these changes at https://2020census.gov/en/news-events/operational-adjustments-covid-19.html
  • For more information the process, visit 2020Census.gov
What should I expect on the internet self response portal?

With the 2020 Census being a “digital-first” census for the majority of households, it’s important for advocates and the general public to understand the internet self response (ISR) portal experience. https://censuscounts.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/GOTC_ISRPortal_Update.pdf