The Census: An Explainer

The U.S. Constitution requires a Census take place every 10 years to count everyone living in the United States, including citizens and noncitizens, newborns and seniors, documented and undocumented immigrants, and homeowners, renters, and people experiencing homelessness.

Conducted by the U.S Census Bureau, everyone living in the United States and U.S. territories are required by law to participate. National Census Day is April 1, 2020, and by then households will have received an invitation in the mail to participate in the Census.

The Census determines the distribution of political power and money from the federal government to our communities. It directly impacts our representation in government and the money that goes to our communities, our schools, our housing, our neighborhood programs, our lives. When we aren’t counted, our communities don’t get their fair share. For each person not counted, their community loses out on over $20,000 over 10 years.

Census data is used to decide how many seats in the House of Representatives each state receives. State legislators and local governments also rely on Census data to help draw boundaries for congressional, state legislative, and local districts to make sure they are equally populated — a process called redistricting.

The federal government also uses population totals and demographic information to determine how much of the $600 billion in federal funding cities and states receive for things like education, social services, health care, emergency services, and infrastructure.

The U.S Census Bureau is bound by law to protect your answers. Your responses are used only to produce statistics; the government does not disclose any personal information, even to other government agencies. On June 27, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Census will not include a question asking about citizenship status.

You’ll have three options to respond to the Census: online, by phone, or by mail. While paper forms will only be available in English and Spanish, you can respond online or by phone in over 12 languages including Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

People are counted at their usual residence, which is the place where they live and sleep most of the time, on or around Census Day. People who do not have a permanent address, or who cannot determine one, are counted where they are present most on Census Day.

College students who live away from home should count themselves at the on- or off-campus residence where they live and sleep most of the time — not at their family’s home address, even if they’re home or on break on Census Day.

If you live in a dormitory or residence hall, you may hear about “Group Quarters Enumeration,” which is the process by which people living in dormitories are counted. Instead of you receiving Census materials in the mail, Census takers will instead coordinate with your R.A. or other college housing staff, who should provide you with an Individual Census Report to make sure you’re counted. Similar procedures apply to sorority and fraternity houses.

If you live off-campus, you’ll receive Census materials in the mail and should complete the regular Census process to make sure you’re counted.

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