Census 2020: From what it is to why it's important, here's what you need to know

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A lot can change in 10 years. Think back to the spring of 2010. The iPhone did not let us take selfies, Netflix still offered DVD rentals by mail and a one-bedroom apartment was about $1,200 cheaper in places like San Francisco.

While the government doesn't care about our selfies, it does want to track a decade's worth of changes about things like where we live, who is married and how many of us are living in the country. That's where the U.S. census comes in.

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Here's what you need to know.

What is the census?
The census is a national survey conducted every ten years by the federal government to determine how many people are living in the United States. The survey will ask how many people are living in a household as well as their age, sex and race.

Why is the census important?
The census population count determines how many representatives each state will have in Congress for the next 10 years and how much federal funding communities will receive for roads, schools, housing and social programs.

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Who is counted?
Everyone living in the U.S. on April 1, 2020, is counted including children, babies, homeless or people living in shelters. Immigrants regardless of their legal status in the country are also counted.

When does the census begin?
Expect to receive a postcard starting in mid-March with an invitation to respond to the census online. Some households will also receive a paper questionnaire.

How do I participate?
There will be three ways to participate in the 2020 census.

  • BY MAIL: The paper form will be available in English and Spanish and can be mailed back to the U.S. Census Bureau.

  • ONLINE: This is the first time the census can be completed online. Visit the Census website to fill out the survey in 13 languages including English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

  • BY PHONE: Respondents can call the Census Bureau and provide answers over the phone in 13 languages and Telecommunication Device for the Deaf.


Is the census mandatory?
Census participation is required by law. Households that do not respond by May 1, 2020, will get a follow-up visit by a census worker to conduct an in-person interview.

Are my answers confidential?
The information provided on the census form is private and confidential. It cannot be shared with any other federal department or agency, including immigration authorities.

Will there be a citizenship question?
The 2020 census will not ask about citizenship.

Am I allowed to get help to fill out the census form?
Yes, you can get help directly from the Census Bureau by visiting its website or calling 301-763-INFO (4636) or 800-923-8282. Local governments and community groups will offer Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QAC).



Avoid fraud
The census will not ask for your Social Security Number or financial information like your bank account, credit card or any type of money or donation.

If a census worker visits your home, they will always show a valid identification from the U.S. Census Bureau. You can confirm they are a valid employee by going to the United States Census Bureau website and entering their name into the Census Bureau Staff Search.

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