2020 Census FAQs

Here are answers to all your Census questions.

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.

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

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

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the citizenship question in late April. On Thursday, June 27, 2019, the Supreme Court temporarily halted the U.S. Commerce Department’s plan to add an untested citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionnaire, sending the case back to the New York District Court for further consideration.

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.

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.

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.

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 at https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial/2020/program-management/memo-series/2020-memo-2018_04-appendix.pdf?#

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.