Section One: Who should respond to the Census?
1. Who is supposed to fill out the 2020 Census?
Everyone living in the 50 states, District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) is required by law to be counted in the 2020 Census, regardless of citizenship status. Housing units in the United States that receive mail at their physical location will receive a postcard by mail with instructions on how to complete the census questionnaire. Housing units include houses, apartments, cabins, mobile homes—pretty much any place where people live in the United States.
2. But who in my house actually fills out the census?
The person in the housing unit who fills out the census questionnaire or talks to the census taker is known as Person 1. Typically, Person 1 is the owner/co-owner or renter/co-renter of the housing unit. Person 1 answers general questions about the housing unit, including the number of persons living there and whether their residence is rented or owned. Person 1 also provides the following information about each household member. If Person 1 needs assistance filling out the form, another person in the household CAN help them. The person helping must be at least 15 years old and they should live in the home or place of residence themselves and know general information about each person living there.
3. What if I don’t want to fill out the census?
Census participation is mandatory, as described in Title 13 of the U.S. Code and refusal to respond can result in a fine. However, no one has been in trouble for failing to respond to the census since the 1970 Census. BUT – we really encourage you to do so, as it is how states receive money and political representation in the federal government.
4. What if I never receive my mailing or I keep forgetting to fill out the questionnaire?
If you don’t respond to the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau will send up to five reminder mailings to your address and an enumerator to your door. An enumerator is a specially trained Census Bureau employee who collects census information from people in-person. The enumerator MUST present an ID Badge which contains: photograph of field representative, Department of Commerce watermark, and expiration date. They will also have a formal letter from the Director of the Census Bureau on U.S. Census Bureau letterhead AND carry a laptop and/or bag with a Census Bureau logo.
PLEASE NOTE: The Census Bureau enumerators and representatives will NEVER ask for the following information from you: (A) Full social security number; (B) Money or donations; (C) Anything on behalf of a political party: (D) Your full bank or credit card account numbers. If someone asks for these items, notify the Census Bureau and they will connect you with the correct person to address this issue (Toll-free: 1-800-923-8282).
Section Two: How do I fill out my form?
1. Do I have to fill out the census online?
This year, most people will be encouraged to fill out their census online. This is a safe, easy and quick way to fill out the questionnaire – it should take no more than 10-20 minutes based on the number of people you have living in your home! But if you are not comfortable or able to fill it out online, you will have the option of responding online, by mail, or by phone. Postcards sent to your home will explain how you can complete the questionnaire over the phone ore request a paper copy of the form.
Section Three: Who do I count?
1. Who should be counted on the Census form?
If you are filling out the census for your home, you should count everyone who is living there as of April 1, 2020. This includes any friends or family members who are living and sleeping there most of the time. If someone is staying in your home on April 1, and has no usual home elsewhere, you should count them in your response to the 2020 Census.
2. What if we have a blended family or I have a lot of people living in my home?
If you have a blended family (grandparents, biological children, step-children, nieces/nephews, grandchildren) living in your home, you count each of those members if they are living in your home as of April 1, 2020. Also include foster children and the children of friends (even if they are living with you temporarily) if they are living in your home as of April 1, 2020. If you share custody of a child(ren), count them if they are living with you on April 1, 2020. Finally, count your newborn babies, even those who are born on April 1, 2020, or who are still in the hospital on this date.
3. What if I move during the Census period?
If you move into your new residence on April 1, 2020 or later, you should count yourself at your new residence.
4. What if I have out-of-town family or friends with me during the Census period?
Friends and family who are in your home on April 1, 2020, but who will return to their normal residence should be counted where they live and sleep most of the time. If you would call them “visiting” and not “living with you,” then they would not be counted on your form.
5. How do I count my college students?
College students who are living at home should be counted at their home address. College students who live away from home should be counted at the on- or off-campus residence where they live and sleep most of the time, even if they still continue to receive mail at your house or are temporarily at home on April 1, 2020. This is why it is important to tell your college-age kids to participate in the Census if they are away at school!
6. How do we count family that are in the U.S. Military?
Family members that live in housing units at military installations will be able to respond to the Census themselves. You would not count those members. Military personnel who live in places such as barracks or military campgrounds will also respond to the Census themselves. You also do not count these family members in your home.
7. I have a family member that lives in a shelter. Do I count them as a resident of my home?
People who are living in emergency and transitional shelters that provide sleeping facilities for people experiencing homelessness should be counted at the shelter. You will not count them in your home.
8. I have a family member in prison. Do I count them as a resident of my home?
Any family member that is housed in any residential correctional facility, jail, prison or detention center on April 1, 2020 will be counted at the facility. You will not count them in your home.
9. I have a family member that is in the hospital. Do I count them as a resident of my home?
If your family member is temporarily in the hospital, even on April 1, 2020, but would otherwise be at home living with you, they are counted in your home. However, if you have a family member living in a long-term care facility, nursing home or long-term psychiatric facility, they will be counted at the facility. You will not count them in your home.
Section Four: Why are they asking me for that information?
1. Why is the census questionnaire asking me for my name and the names of people living in my home?
The census questionnaire asks for people’s names to ensure that each household member is counted only once. This also lets census workers remove duplicate records from the official count.
2. Why does the census questionnaire ask me how people in my home are related?
Census data is used to help provide a better understanding of current American households – including whether there are parents with children living in the home, unmarried adults living together, grandparents living with grandchildren, etc. The information is also used to determine funding for federal nutrition and education programs, housing programs, and other social services that provide benefits to many U.S. communities.
3. Why does the census questionnaire ask for both age and date of birth for people living in my home?
It is a check and balance to make sure people are entering the correct information onto the form. Someone might list a baby as 1-year-old, when in fact their birthdate shows they are 11.5 months old. The birth date information helps Census Bureau staff correct these kinds of common rounding mistakes in how people’s ages are reported on the census form.
4. Why does the census questionnaire ask me about my phone number?
People sometimes provide conflicting information on the form, and the Census Bureau tries to make the collected data as accurate as possible. Providing your phone number allows one of the data collectors to call and clear up any errors. Once we make sure we understand all your responses, we remove the record of the telephone number from our files.
5. How do I answer the questions about race and ethnicity?
The census questionnaire will let you select from among 15 racial categories and also to write in races not listed on the form. You will also be able to choose more than one race on your form. The census questionnaire asks a separate question about whether you identify as being of Hispanic origin. People marking Hispanic can also identify as any one of the race options on the form.
6. Can I refuse to answer a question?
While participation in the census—and answering all questions—is mandatory, you may leave a question blank. The Census Bureau uses a statistical procedure to fill in any missing responses in the census data.
Section Five: Is my information going to be safe and secure?
1. Will the information I share be kept confidential?
The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to keep your information confidential. The Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business to ANY local, state or federal agency. This includes housing, health, family and law enforcement agencies. Your information cannot be used against you in court. It cannot be used by anyone against you or your family, period.
2. How is my information going to be used?
The answers you provide are used only to produce statistics. You, your name and your family names are kept anonymous: The Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in any way that could identify you or anyone else in your home. Your data will not be tied back to you, and it will not be shared with any agency, business or organization that you are employed by, receive services from, etc.
3. How does the Census Bureau even know where I live? I didn’t share that information with them.
The Census Bureau relies on an accurate and up-to-date list of residential addresses. This list is known as the Master Address File, and includes addresses served by the U.S. Postal Service, information gathered from local governments, and information updated by Census Bureau employees in the field.
4. If my information is protected and you don’t share my name, why do I see names and identifying information on old Census reports on places like Ancestry.com?
Individual census records from the federal population censuses are confidential for 72 years, by law (Title 44, U.S. Code). After this period of time, they become available to the public. The National Archives releases historic census records for public use.