Did you know that the decennial census touches every part of our lives?

From the basic building blocks of healthy communities – the schools, hospitals, food programs, emergency services and infrastructure available to us – to the representative government we elect. It also serves as the framework businesses use when they answer basic questions ranging from where should they expand to what products they should introduce based on a community’s demographics. Census data informs everything. The foundational importance of accurate census data touches every part of life in America, and in order for government, business and philanthropy to meet our needs, the data collected needs to reflect who and where we are.

While you may think of it as just a survey, accurate census data is of foundational importance to life in the United States. From the basic building blocks of healthy communities – the schools, hospitals, food programs, emergency services and infrastructure available to us – to the representative government we elect, census informs everything. It provides essential data for government, business and philanthropy to answer key questions including what services should they offer and where these services are best placed – all based on a community’s demographics. In order to meet our needs, the data must accurately reflect who and where we are.

It’s our massive, nationwide headcount to measure how many people live in the United States and where we are, which gives us data both to make countless decisions and to tell the story of our national identity. Article One of the Constitution requires us to collect this data every ten years and we’ve been doing it since 1790!


Fun fact: April 1st was designated as census day in 1930. Before that, the months of August, June and January got to share the love.

This once-a-decade event has massive money, power and knowledge implications:


Distribute money

We pay taxes to the federal government to support healthcare, improve public safety, help fund education, provide housing assistance, and fix roads (to name just a few uses). In order to allocate resources, the government needs to know who lives where. How do they know where the people are? The census! For scale: over 320 federal programs used census data to distribute more than $880 billion during fiscal year 2016!!


Distribute power

After each census, Census data is also used to reapportion (aka divide up) the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, making it fundamental to our democracy. Additionally, states use the results to redraw the boundaries of their congressional and state legislative districts, adapting to population shifts. Unlike voting (which excludes non-citizens, people under 18, and many folks involved with the criminal justice system), census counts everyone.


Know ourselves

Census is the data backbone for diverse social sectors. Businesses, foundations, nonprofits and researchers rely on census data to inform decisions large and small. An inaccurate count undermines foundational knowledge, creates missed opportunities, leaves communities underserved and slows learning about how the country is changing.


Can the Census Bureau share your data?

No!! Your answers can only be used to produce statistics. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share your information with immigration, law enforcement or other agencies, and it can’t be used to determine your eligibility for government benefits.


Fun fact: It’s also huge for genealogy research.

It is estimated that for census 2020, approximately $2,000 in federal funds will be allocated for each person counted. That means each respondent garners ~$20,000 in resources for their community in the decade before the 2030 census.


Just think about all the good your community will do with $20k for each person!

The census counts all persons who live in the United States on April 1, 2020 (Census Day), regardless of citizenship, immigration status or any other characteristic. Even newborns still in the hospital need to be counted as part of the family household!!

According to the Constitution, the 14th Amendment and multiple court rulings, every person living in the U.S. on Census Day counts for census regardless of citizenship, age or any other factor.

Households will begin to receive the form in March 2020.  You can fill out the survey online, by phone or by mail as soon as the mailer arrives – though if you’re unsure who will be living with you on April 1, you should wait until closer to the date (hmm… will grandma finally move in with us this year??).

If a household fails to respond by April 30, 2020, census enumerators (community members hired to help collect information) will start knocking on doors in May 2020 and will continue through July 2020. Their only job is to help people fill out the census. But if you don’t want someone knocking, the simplest way to avoid that is to respond yourself as soon as you get the mailer!

You should only be counted once, at your “usual place of residence” (aka where you live and sleep most of the time).

Forms are addressed to the “householder,” but anyone in the household can fill it out for everyone who lives there. If more than one family lives in your household, everyone should be listed on the form that came to your address. It’s important to note that the paper form allows for info about 12 people, but only full data for 6 of those. If you have a large household and use the paper form, you will get a follow-up call from the Census Bureau to collect the additional data.

Yes!! If you respond…


Online: 12 languages + English

Phone: 12 languages + English

Mail: English & Bilingual English/Spanish


Additionally, there will be Language Guides in 60 languages!

To find out more about which languages are available online + phone, check out this doc.

If you are left off the form – or it gets lost – you can still respond online or by phone for yourself and any household members not yet counted. You’ll use the process called “No-ID response” and might get a follow-up to confirm your address.

By law (Title 13 of the U.S. code), your information can only be used to produce statistics and cannot be shared with anyone (including law enforcement and other federal agencies) outside the Census Bureau. There are serious consequences for any violations – including up to five years in federal prison and/or a $250,000 fine!  

You can read more about how the government can – and cannot – use information here.

Questions will be finalized in Summer 2019, but are currently:

  1. What is each person’s age as of April 1, 2020 and date of birth?
  2. Is this person a citizen of the United States? (this question is currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court)
  3. Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?
  4. What is this person’s race? (there will be options and a place to write in a race not listed)
  5. Relationship to head of household (married, foster child, roommate, etc.)
  6. Sex (male, female)
  7. Tenure (is this house, apartment or mobile home owned by you or someone living there, rented, or occupied without payment or rent?)
  8. Operational Questions such as
    1. Number of people in the household on April 1st
    2. First and Last name of people in the household on April 1st
    3. Telephone number of head of household

History of each question can be found here.