2020 Census FAQs

Here are answers to all your Census questions. Answers as of May 2020.

About The Census

The Decennial Census is a federal program that counts every resident, regardless of age, national origin or citizenship, every 10 years. It is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. All responses to the Census are confidential.

Even though the primary purpose of the Census, as mandated in the Constitution, it to take a count of the population to determine U.S. congressional apportionment, Census data is also used by the government in a variety of important decisions. For example, the U.S. government allocates about $800 billion in federal funds each year based on Census information; currently California receives about $76 billion of these funds, which is allocated for health care, housing, transportation, education and human services. Also, local governments utilize Census information to determine community planning (where roads, schools, hospitals, etc. will be built). Census information can also support a strong economy; corporations and businesses look at demographics of communities to determine where they will locate headquarters, factories and workplaces.

Concerns include recent leadership transitions at the Census Bureau, low funding, new technology (2020 will mark the first time the Census is conducted online), and the Trump administration’s proposed addition of a citizenship question.  The Census Bureau will be asking Americans for information at a time when skepticism in government itself is near an all-time high. Those with experience working on and with the Census say they are concerned that the final number will miss millions — potentially tens of millions — of people.

Yes, there are two: In Fullerton and Santa Ana.

Answer from U.S. Census Bureau: About 20 percent of households in mailout areas will receive a paper questionnaire in the first mailing (the “Internet choice” mail cohort). Extensive data-driven research was undertaken to identify areas that should receive the paper questionnaire upfront. These areas included those with expected lower Internet usage, which would be more likely to benefit from an earlier paper questionnaire. The primary factor in this delineation was census tracts that have lower self-response rates, including lower Internet response, to the American Community Survey. Secondary factors are tracts that have relatively higher concentrations of people age 65 or more, and tracts with low Internet subscribership.

Another 5 percent of households will be part of the Update Leave operation, designed to occur in areas where the majority of housing units either do not have mail delivered to the physical location of the housing unit, or the mail delivery information for the housing unit cannot be verified. In these areas, enumerators will leave an “Internet choice” package, which includes both the paper questionnaire and information on how to respond online.

The U.S. Census Bureau asks for names to ensure everyone in the house is counted. Listing the name of each person in the household helps respondents include all members, particularly in large households where a respondent may forget who was counted and who was not. All information provided on the questionnaire including names is kept safe and confidential.

The Census’ main goal is to count everyone once, only once and in the right place to get an accurate and precise count of the country’s population. You must be counted where you stay most of the time out of the year or where you are living on April 1st.

How Can I Complete the Census?

The 2020 Census will be the first Decennial Census where people will be counted over the internet. The U.S. Census Bureau wants to optimize self-response rates and encourage residents to take the Census online. Households will also be able to respond via the traditional census taking methods: over the telephone and via paper forms.

No, it’s not optional. The Constitution requires that every person in the country be counted. Congress must conduct a census every 10 years. By law, you as an individual are required to fill out the Census form. It’s required because the Census is so important. Preventing an undercount to the maximum extent possible ensures that the Census most accurately reflects the makeup of the country.

Answer from U.S. Census Bureau: Every household will have the option of responding online, by phone, or by mail. Nearly every household will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census from either a postal worker or a Census worker: 95 percent of households will receive their invitation in the mail and almost 5 percent will receive their invitation when a Census taker drops it off. In the latter areas, the majority of households may not receive mail at their home’s physical location, like households that use PO boxes or areas recently affected by natural disasters. Regardless of whether you receive an invitation or not, you can respond via the internet or phone without the unique Census ID included in the invitation.

Don’t worry – you can still complete your Census form online. It’s easier if you have your postcard and online id, but it’s not mandatory in order to complete your form.

Yes, however it is recommended you fill out the Census as soon as you receive your invitation. If you don’t want a Census Bureau employee to visit your household then you must fill out the Census before May.

For the 2020 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau plans to provide the Internet Self-Response Instrument and Census Questionnaire Assistance in 12 non-English languages; enumerator instrument, bilingual paper questionnaire, bilingual mailing, and field enumeration materials in Spanish; and language guides, language glossaries, and language identification card in 59 non-English languages.

The 2020 Census Internet Self-Response Instrument and questionnaire assistance will be available in 12 non-English languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. Here are the non-English language guides.

Questions About Specific Communities/Populations

The 2020 Census residence criteria say that all people (regardless of citizenship or visa status) should be counted at their usual residence, which is the place where they live and sleep most of the time as of April 1, 2020. Therefore, if a citizen of a foreign country is living in the United States as of April 1, 2020, they should be counted at the U.S. residence where they live and sleep most of the time. However, if a foreign citizen is only visiting the United States, such as on a vacation or business trip, they should not be counted in the U.S. Census. The full 2020 Census residence criteria document is available on the Census Bureau’s website here.

The “ethnicity question” is the Hispanic Origin question. It is a yes/no question:  No, I am not Hispanic/Latino or Yes, I am Hispanic/Latino, and then there is the opportunity to check Mexican/Mexican American, or Puerto Rican, or Cuban, or Other Latino and the person needs to write in that answer (Dominican, Salvadoran, etc.). While a person can check more than one Latino national origin group, the Bureau will only report one Latino origin group when publishing the data.  The Bureau will choose arbitrarily.

The Race question is more complicated.  A person should make one OR MORE race categories, that is permitted, with which he/she identifies. If none are applicable, then there is the option of answering Some Other Race and writing in the background.

Every household will have the option of responding online, by phone, or by mail. Nearly every household will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census from either a postal worker or a Census worker. The invitation materials include a Census ID that can be used to respond online or by phone. Some households will receive a paper questionnaire up front (for areas where we believe respondents prefer paper forms) but all households will receive a paper questionnaire in the fourth mailing if they haven’t already responded. The Bureau encourages whomever receives the mail to count everyone at that property (including additional people living in the auxiliary structures). However, if people think they are not included in the response that may have been returned for that address, they are encouraged to respond online or over the phone and can do so without a Census ID. For example, if multiple families live in separate structures at one address, each family that does not live in the main house should respond via the internet or phone and indicate that they don’t have a Census ID. Then they should also report their address (e.g., 123 Main St) and complete the questionnaire for their respective household members.

YES. Please list your baby no matter how old — even if you are still in the hospital!

Every child born on or before April 1, 2020 should be counted.

Yes, the 2020 Census will count the number of same-sex couple households but will not ask other questions about sexual orientation or gender identity. These topics haven’t met the criteria for adding a new question to the census.

The first step is that federal agencies must request the data and show why it’s necessary. The process then involves extensive testing and review to make sure the questions actually produce quality data. Three agencies requested that we add these topics to the American Community Survey, but their requests didn’t show that they had a legal or regulatory need for the data. Another agency requested the information but then withdrew its request.

In the meantime, the U.S. Census Bureau asks about sexual orientation and gender identity on health and crime surveys. The Bureau also continues to work with other agencies on how to measure these topics in federal surveys.

Please find the sample 2020 Census questionnaire here.

Please also find some LGBTQ resources and outreach materials here.

Questions About Enumerators

A Census taker. A person who is employed to take a count of the population.

Answer from U.S. Census Bureau: A complete and accurate Census depends on the collection of quality data for every household. We will encourage all respondents to respond to every question on the 2020 Census. Your response to each question is also required by law. However, we recognize that with any survey or Census, there are questions that are left blank. For the online questionnaire, we will include prompts if the respondent has failed to answer a question. Also, failure to answer questions on the Census increases the likelihood of a follow-up visit by a Census taker. After the total person counts have been established, missing item data may be imputed pursuant to established methods and procedures.

If you are visited by someone from the Census Bureau, here are some ways to verify the individual is a Census Bureau employee: The field representative will present an ID badge that includes:

  • Their name
  • Their photograph
  • A Department of Commerce watermark
  • And an expiration date

If you wish to independently confirm that the person at your door is a Census Bureau employee, you can enter their name in the Census Bureau’s staff search website, or contact the Regional Office for your state.

Data and Privacy

Yes. By law (13 U.S. Code § 9), information gathered from the Census is 100% confidential and cannot be shared with any other government agency. Census takers (Enumerators) take an oath to protect the privacy of the information collected and can face jail time and heavy fines if they violate that oath.

No, that’s illegal under numerous federal laws. The federal Census Act, for example, is crystal clear that the Census Bureau can’t disclose your individual Census responses and that the government can’t use Census data for any reason that’s not purely statistical. Law enforcement would not be a statistical purpose. The easiest way to think about it is that your Census responses can’t be used to harm you.