2020 Census Frequently Asked Questions

The Basics

What is the census? Every 10 years, the United States conducts a headcount of the entire population. It’s mandated by the U.S. Constitutioni. The U.S. has counted its population every 10 years since 1790.

Who gets counted? The census counts everyone living and breathing in the United States as of April 1, 2020, from people in prison, and individuals who aren’t yet citizens. If you live here, you get counted.

How is census data used? The once-every-ten-year census data will be used to determine how much funding communities receive for services like hospitals, health care, schools, drainage, and child care. All total, each year over $1.5 trillion in federal funding is distributed based on census dataii.

Census data also determines how City Council districts and State legislative districts are drawn, and even how U.S. Congress seats are divided up.

And that’s not all. The census count will determine whether businesses decide to (re)open in your neighborhood, and how roads are planned. The census results will affect nearly every aspect of our daily lives.

When does the 2020 Census count begin?

What will be sent in the mail?
On or between You’ll receive
March 12-20 An invitation to respond online to the 2020 Census. (Some households will also receive paper questionnaires.)
March 16-24 A reminder letter
If you haven’t responded yet:
March 26-April 3 A reminder postcard.
April 8-16 A reminder letter and paper questionnaire.
April 20-27 A final near reminder postcard.
July 22-28 A final reminder postcard.

In mid-March 2020, the Census Bureau mailed letters to every household in the United States. They provided a code so you can go online or call a toll-free number to complete your census.

Throughout April 2020, to any household that had not yet responded, the Census Bureau sent reminder postcards, and a paper questionnaire.

In July 2020, the Census Bureau will send one additional reminder postcard.

Starting July 16th in Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany, and Washington parishes, and in all other parishes no later than August 11th, Census Bureau “enumerators” (or census takers) will begin visiting households that have not completed the census to assist you in filling out the census in-person. (This date has been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak.) Census takers are people from your neighborhood who have been hired by the U.S. Census Bureau to help you fill out the census.

In late July, the Census will begin emailing households to remind them to go online and fill out the 2020 Census. The email messages will come from [email protected].

The final day for responding to the 2020 Census either online, via phone, via mail, or in-person will be September 30, 2020.

How can I complete the 2020 Census? You can respond to the 2020 Census three ways: online, by telephone, or by mail. And you do not need the 12-digit Census ID code to respond.

To fill it out online, go to my2020census.gov. You can use any internet-enabled device (cellphone, computer, tablet, etc.), and answer the questions in 12 different languages.

You can answer the questions by phone in 12 languages.

Households that don’t respond online or by phone will receive a paper form in the mail. The paper 2020 Census surveys is available in English and Spanish.

Am I required to answer the census? Yes, it is every person’s civic duty to complete the census once every ten years. By law you must complete the census, however, the U.S. Census Bureau has never prosecuted anyone for not completing the census.

Questions on the 2020 Census

How long does it take to answer the census? About 10 minutes

What questions am I going to be asked? The 2020 Census survey will ask the name, sex, age, date of birth, race/ethnicity, and relationship of everyone in your household. It will also ask if you rent or own your home.

You can see each question and how the answers are used on the 2020 Census website.

You do not have to answer all of the questions, however, if your census is incomplete, a census taker may visit your home to help you complete it.

Who Gets Counted

Who should I count in my census response? You should count anyone who is living and sleeping in your home most of the time as of April 1, 2020.. This includes both family members and roommates, foster children, and friends. This also includes people in the hospital or even in jail temporarily who normally live with you.

Are children included in the census? Yes! It is important to count any children living in your home most of the time. This includes children who split their time between divorced parents, newborn babies, and other children who live with you like grandchildren, the children of friends, or nieces and nephews.

If I have kids away at college, should I count them? No. Basically, a student’s “home” is where they live while attending college. If they’re not living at their parents’ home most of the time, the right place for them to be counted is in the town where they attend school. Students in college towns use local resources, including roads, and public transportation. That’s why they must be counted in those college towns.

I know I’m supposed to fill out the Census at my college address, but I was living at home on April 1st due to COVID-19! If you lived in off-campus housing, you should go online at my2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020 and complete the census as though you are still in your off-campus housing!

You do not need your “Census ID” code from the census letter mailed to you. On the website my2020census.gov, just below where you would enter the 12-digit Census ID code, there is a link labeled “If you do not have a Census ID, click here.”

College students living in on-campus housing are counted through their university as part of the Census Bureau’s Group Quarters operation, which counts all students living in university-owned housing. 

You should not be included in your parents’ or relatives’ 2020 Census count just because of the temporary closing of your college or university!

What if I own a vacation home and receive a census letter there, too? The Census Bureau’s mandate is to count all residents where they live most of the time. Even if you happen to have been at your second home on April 1, 2020 due to the pandemic, the Census Bureau’s aim is to count you only once, and in your primary residence. You should not count yourself as living at a “second home” or vacation home on a census survey.

That said, for a vacation home or second home, it would be quite helpful to the Census Bureau if you would respond to the census survey indicating that zero people were living there on April 1, 2020. By reporting to the Census Bureau that an address is a second or vacation home, the Census Bureau can avoid sending an enumerator to that home to verify that it is vacant.

To indicate to the Census Bureau that an address is a second or vacation home, go to my2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020.

For the question “Including yourself, how many people were living or staying at _______ on April 1, 2020?” your response should be “0” even if you happened to be in this home on April, 1, 2020. The Census wants to count you only once and at your primary address.

After two more prompts to confirm that zero people live at this address, the website will then ask “What is the primary reason why no one was living or staying at ________ on April 1, 2020?” Select “For Seasonal, recreational or occasional use”.

Can I change my responses to the census questions? Yes and no. Using the code you receive in the mail, you can answer the census only once. But if you realize you should have counted additional people staying in your home, you can add them by calling the Census Bureau at (301) 763-INFO (4636) or (800) 923-8282 or going online at my2020census.gov and entering the information without the code. This is called Non-ID response. The Census Bureau will receive Non-ID responses and they have back-end processing that will assemble a complete record for each household. They also will delete duplicates if multiple household members accidentally respond to the census separately.

Does every person in my household complete a census survey? Ideally, only one person per household completes the census survey. However, the Census Bureau can receive multiple responses per household and they have systems that will eliminate duplicates and assemble a single record for each household.

How and where are people in prison counted? People living in prisons in Louisiana are counted as living in the parish where the prison is located. They are counted by the administrator of the prison, through the Census Bureau’s group quarters enumeration process.iii Note that people who are in jail, awaiting a trial should be counted by their family members in their homes.

Citizenship

WILL THE 2020 CENSUS ASK ABOUT CITIZENSHIP? No. The federal government has now been permanently prevented from asking the citizenship question as part of the 2020 Census in any form.

HAS THE CENSUS EVER ASKED ABOUT CITIZENSHIP? A citizenship question first showed up in the census in 1820 and was asked in some form of every household every decade until 1950.

The last time the U.S. Census Bureau asked every household about citizenship was in 1950, when census workers knocking on doors wrote down where each person was born and asked as a follow-up, “If foreign born — is he naturalized?”iv

Filling out the 2020 Census

When can I fill out the census survey? You can fill out the census survey anytime before October 31st. But it’s best to fill it out before August 11th when census takers will begin going door-to-door to help anyone who hasn’t yet filled it out.

You do not need your “Census ID” code from the census letter mailed to you. On the website my2020census.gov, just below where you would enter the 12-digit Census ID code, there is a link labeled “If you do not have a Census ID, click here.”

You can go online at my2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020 and complete the census anytime.

Is there a phone number I can call for help filling out my census? Yes. You can call the U.S. Census Bureau Call Center: (301) 763-INFO (4636) or (800) 923-8282.

If I already filled out the (much longer) American Community Survey from the Census Bureau do I also have to fill out the 2020 Census survey? Yes. The 2020 Census is the once-every-ten-year survey that goes to every household in the country. It has only 10 questions and takes only 10 minutes to fill out. The results are used to determine how many seats in Congress each state gets, and it is mandated by our Constitution.

The American Community Survey goes to only about 2.6% of all households each yearv and asks a large number of questions that help inform policies, programs, and research by government, private-sector, and researchers nationwide. The two surveys are different.

Safety and Security

Is the census confidential? Yes. Responses to the census are confidential. Census information is used for statistical purposes only.

To ensure security, in 1954 Congress passed Title 13 which stipulates that U.S. Census Bureau workers are sworn for life to protect confidentiality and are subject to a $250,000 fine and/or up to five years in federal prison for the disclosure of information. Individual census responses cannot be released for 72 years.

Can another government agency access my census information? No. Your responses cannot be used against you by any government agency, including law enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security, or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Can my census responses affect my eligibility for government benefits? No. Your responses to the census are confidential and will not affect your eligibility for any government benefits.

Do I need a Social Security number to complete the census? No. The Census Bureau will never ask for a social security number. You do not need your tax returns or paycheck stub to answer the census.

How can I be sure I’m not being “scammed” by an imposter Census website? The Census Bureau will never ask for money, donations, anything on behalf of a political party, your bank or credit account numbers, your mother’s maiden name, or your social security number. Make sure you respond to the census through my2020Census.gov, the official website.

Is it safe to submit my personal information to the U.S. Census Bureau online? Yes! All responses submitted online are encrypted to protect your personal privacy.

HOW DO I KNOW IF AN EMAIL I RECEIVE IS REALLY FROM THE CENSUS BUREAU? The U.S. Census Bureau is sending emails to households in low response areas. All emails from the Census Bureau will come from [email protected]. If you receive an email about the 2020 Census from any other email address, do not open attachments or click on links—doing so may download and install harmful software on your computer. Instead, forward the email or website address to the Census Bureau at [email protected] and then delete the message. The Census Bureau will investigate and notify you of its findings.

How do I know that a person who comes to my home is really a U.S. Census Bureau employee? If someone visits your home to collect a response for the 2020 Census, ask to see the individual’s U.S. Census Bureau ID badge to verify his or her identity. A Census Bureau badge has a photograph of the field agent, a Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date. If you are still unsure, call 800-923-8282 to speak with a local Census Bureau representative. Some scam artists impersonate Census Bureau employees to collect your personal information and use it to commit fraud or steal your identity.

How do I know that a survey I receive in the mail, or a phone call I receive is really from the Census Bureau? Scammers may contact you by mail with a letter that appears legitimate, or by phone. Call the Census Bureau’s Atlanta Regional Office for verification at 1-800-424-6974 to verify the authenticity of the letter or the identity of the person calling. Do not trust the caller ID. Scammers use a technique known as caller ID spoofing to trick victims into believing that the calls are legitimate.

Additional Help

Are there any organizations working near me that can help me or others in my community with the Census? You can always call the Census Bureau Call Center at: (301) 763-INFO (4636) or (800) 923-8282 or visit https://2020census.gov if you have questions or need help. There are also groups called Complete Count Committees operating in parishes throughout Louisiana who may be able to help. Check here for all the Complete Count Committees: census.gov.

References

i https://constitutionus.com/

ii https://gwipp.gwu.edu/counting-dollars-2020-role-decennial-census-geographic-distribution-federal-funds

iii https://2020census.gov/en/conducting-the-count/gq.html

iv https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2019/jul/15/rush-limbaugh/limbaugh-wrongly-blames-obama-no-census-citizenshi/

v https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/programs-surveys/acs/about/ACS_Information_Guide.pdf