2020 means a lot of things but one thing it means for everyone in the United States is this: CENSUS. Yes, that’s right. It’s time for the government to get a count of the population of the United States. The first census was taken in 1790, and we’ve done it every ten years since. There’s been a lot of misinformation about the 2020 Census, some major changes happening, and this is the first Census many of us have been politically active during–so let’s break it down. 

What is the Census and why do we do it?

A census, in the U.S., is a count of the people living in the country–usually done by households. It’s self-reported, so there is a margin of error, but the data from the census is used to make decisions about Congressional districts, school and library funding, roads and transportation, and more. So yes, it does matter. Plus, census data is often used by journalists to talk about locations and make comparisons to others. You can find the 2010 Data Sets here to get a feel for things. 

And, in case you weren’t convinced by your own interests, it’s Constitutionally mandated. 

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution reads: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

tl;dr–Fill out the Census form when it comes to your house! Each household will receive one. If you live in a dorm, your school will account for your on their forms and your parents should not count you as living at home if that isn’t the case. You can read more about the exact semantics of “households” for Census data here. Also yes, a household can include you and your roommates. It’s about the people who live in a dwelling, regardless of if you’re family, friends, or sworn enemies. 

What’s new about this Census & what isn’t: online forms & the immigration questions

Since the Census occurs every 10 years, there are some slight changes each time. There’s one major one in 2020 though: the Census will be online for the first time ever. In previous years, you were required to mail in a paper form, complete a paper form in person, or call in your answers. Now, you can complete the census online. Most households will receive an invitation to complete the census online first. Then, if they do not do that within a given time-frame, they will receive a paper form. Some areas with historically low response rates will receive an online invitation AND a paper form in the first mailing–so keep an eye out!

One of the big concerns about the 2020 Census was the intention expressed by some to include a question about whether or not particular people were U.S. citizens. While the Census Bureau would never, and cannot, turn over such information to other authorities (like ICE) it did raise a lot of concerns. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled that that question could not be included because it might lead to an inaccurate count due to people being afraid of answering. Unfortunately, there are concerns that people may not know about that Court ruling and still avoid filing it. Therefore, Latino community leaders and others are taking steps to talk to people about what is actually being asked and why they should be counted. 

At the end of the day, filling out the census can only help you. It can never hurt you. The Census Bureau is not sharing personal information with anyone else–no agency is getting a list of people who checked yes or no to any particular question. Rather, they are using generalized numbers and datasets to distribute aid, appropriation Congressional districts, and more. 

Important dates and deadlines– “is someone coming to my house?”

While the census is called the 2020 Census it does not truly take place all year. Rather, the majority of the data is gathered between March and June. Starting on March 12th, initial mailings will go out to households with invitations to complete the census online or to fill out a paper form. April 1st is National Census Day, and all homes will have received an invitation by this date.  Starting in May, workers hired by the Census Bureau (and vetted accordingly) will begin to visit the homes of people who have not completed the census online or via paper form. That’s right. These nice people will knock on your door, and some people love that–a lot of seniors like doing their census that way. If you don’t like that, then complete your census forms before May. These visits will occur through July, and by December, the Bureau will give their counts to Congress and the President. 

Check out the FAQ Section of census.gov for more information, or simply explore the website for answers to any question you might have. These people devote their time to answering your questions to ensure an accurate census, so I promise you the answer you seek is out there!

Aryssa D
FFL Cabinet Member