What You Need to Know About the Census
Every 10 years, the federal government is required to count all residents in the United States, citizens and noncitizens alike, through a national census. The next national census is in April 2020. This information gathered is used to make sure everyone is equally represented in our political system and that government resources are allocated fairly.
It is also used to make important decisions about community programs and services, like where to build homes and parks, establish public transit routes, build new roads, and offer language access services.
Everyone is legally required to respond to the U.S. Census. You could be subject to a fine or limited prison term for not responding or providing false answers. However, the U.S. Census Bureau has not historically enforced these penalties.
Information to be Collected
The government needs to know how many people live in an area. Census 2020 will collect basic information about each household, such as the number of people living there, home ownership and phone number, as well as the people living in each household, including their:
- Whether or not individual is a citizen*
*While the census survey will ask respondents whether they are U.S. citizens, respondents will only be asked to identify whether they are a U.S. citizen or not a citizen, they will not be asked whether they are in the country legally. The question is shown below:
How the information will be used
The Census Bureau will use data for statistical purposes only. Your information is confidential. The Bureau combines your responses with information from other households to produce data, and the data will never identify your household or any person in your household.
All Census Bureau employees take an oath of privacy and are sworn for life to protect all information that could be used to identify individuals. The penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000 or imprisonment of up to 5 years, or both. Additionally, the law prohibits federal, state, and local government agencies from using statistical datasets to the "detriment" of any individual who responded to a census or survey. Personally information may not be published or disclosed for 72 years.
How the homeless will be counted
The Census Bureau uses an event called T-Night to count homeless residents, counting people wherever they live - or where they are staying if they have no permanent place to live - on Census Day. They count people at shelters, soup kitchens and regularly scheduled mobile food vans. They look for and count people staying outside in places such as encampments under bridges or in parking lots. This effort is called "Service-Based Enumeration" and will occur on March 27, 30, and 31, 2020.
Working with state, local and tribal governments, they will update contact and address information for service-based locations, as well as identify outdoor locations where people are known to sleep, such as under bridge and in tent camps. Their local staff will work within the community to identify recruiting needs that may include specific language skills and cultural facilitators.
Ways to participate
For the 2020 Census, you can respond online, by mail, by phone, or through an in-person interview. The census questionnaire and other materials will be available in multiple languages.
Key census dates:
- March 2020: The Census Bureau will begin to contact households through a series of mailings, so be sure to look for a postcard or survey in the mail.
- April 1, 2020: Census Day is observed nationwide. By this date, households will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census.
- April 2020: Census takes begin following up with households around selected colleges and universities. Census takers also being conducting quality check interviews.
- May 2020: The Census Bureau will begin sending field staff (called enumerators) out to knock on the doors of households who have not yet responded.
- December 2020: The Census Bureau delivers apportionment counts to the president.
- History of the US Census 1790-2020
- US Census Bureau: Why We Ask Fact Sheet
- US Census Bureau: Census 101 - What You Need to Know
- US Census Bureau: Confidentiality Fact Sheet for Census 2020
- US Census Bureau: How everyone will be invited to respond to Census 2020
- US Census Bureau: Census 2020 sample questionnaire