Table of Contents

What Is The Census?

The 2020 Census counts every person living in the 50 states, District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories.

The census is a count to help gather important data on those living in the United States and U.S. territories.  This data helps the government make important policy adjustments, like providing resources and addressing unmet needs of different communities. 

The census count is mandated by the Constitution and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, a nonpartisan government agency. The 2020 Census counts the population in all 50 states, the 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). Each home will receive an invitation to respond to a short questionnaire—online, by phone, or by mail.

Why do we do the count?

The census provides critical data that lawmakers, business owners, teachers, and many others use to provide daily services, products, and support for you and your community. Every year, billions of dollars in federal funding go to hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads, and other resources based on census data.

The results of the census also determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives, and they are used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.

It's also in the Constitution: Article 1, Section 2, mandates that the country conduct a count of its population once every 10 years. The 2020 Census will mark the 24th time that the country has counted its population since 1790.

 

Important Census Dates

In mid-March, homes across the country will begin receiving invitations to complete the 2020 Census. Once the invitation arrives, you should respond for your home in one of three ways: online, by phone, or by mail.

Census Day 2020: April 1 is Census Day, a key reference date for the 2020 Census. When completing the census, you will include everyone living in your home on April 1, 2020. Census Day will be celebrated with events across the country.

Overall Timeline

Image showing dates on a monthly calendar.

Counting every person living in the United States is a massive undertaking, and efforts begin years in advance. Here's a look at some of the key dates along the way:

2020

  • January 21: The U.S. Census Bureau starts counting the population in remote Alaska. The count officially begins in the rural Alaskan village of Toksook Bay.
  • March 12 - 20: Households will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone, or by mail.  
  • March 30 - April 1: The Census Bureau will count people who are experiencing homelessness over these three days. As part of this process, the Census Bureau counts people in shelters, at soup kitchens and mobile food vans, on the streets, and at non-sheltered, outdoor locations such as tent encampments.
  • April 1: Census Day is observed nationwide. By this date, every home will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. Once the invitation arrives, you should respond for your home in one of three ways: online, by phone, or by mail. When you respond to the census, you'll tell the Census Bureau where you live as of April 1, 2020.
  • April: Census takers will begin visiting college students who live on campus, people living in senior centers, and others who live among large groups of people. Census takers also begin conducting quality check interviews to help ensure an accurate count.
  • May - July: Census takers will begin visiting homes that haven't responded to the 2020 Census to help make sure everyone is counted.
  • December: The Census Bureau will deliver apportionment counts to the President and Congress as required by law.

2021

  • March 31: By this date, the Census Bureau will send redistricting counts to states. This information is used to redraw legislative districts based on population changes.

Here are some of the efforts completed in 2019:

  • January - September: The Census Bureau opened more than 200 area census offices across the country. These offices support and manage the census takers who work all over the country to conduct the census.
  • August - October: Census takers visited areas that have experienced a lot of change and growth to ensure that the Census Bureau's address list is up to date. This process is called address canvassing, and it helps to ensure that everyone receives an invitation to participate in the census.

Who is Required to Respond?

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.
 

Why it's Required

Getting a complete and accurate census count is critically important. That's why your response is required by law. If you do not respond, the U.S. Census Bureau will follow up in person to collect your response.

Why is the census so important? The results are used to determine how much funding local communities receive for key public services and how many seats each state gets in Congress. State and local officials also use census counts to draw boundaries for congressional, state legislative, and school districts.

And while you are required by law to participate, the Census Bureau is also required by law to protect your answers. Your responses are used only to produce statistics. The Census Bureau does not disclose any personal information.

Smiling university student.

Special Living Situations

People in some special living situations may have questions about how to respond. This includes:

  • Students.
  • Service members.
  • People in correctional facilities.
  • People who move on Census Day (April 1, 2020).
  • People who do not have fixed addresses.

Visit Who To Count for information on how people in these groups will be counted.

Participation in Other Census Surveys

The Census Bureau will continue to conduct other surveys, like the American Community Survey, during 2020. If you are contacted about another survey, it is very important to participate. But you will still be required to respond to the 2020 Census even if you participate in another survey.

Conducting the Count

An overhead look at a suburban community.

The 2020 Census is a massive undertaking. It requires counting a diverse and growing population in the United States and the five U.S. territories. To do this, the U.S. Census Bureau must:

  • Make an accurate list of every residence in the U.S. and five U.S. territories—including houses, apartments, dormitories, military barracks, and more.
  • Get a member of every residence to complete the census online, by phone, or by mail in March and April of 2020.
  • Follow up in person with homes that have not responded.

Collecting Responses

There are three ways that the Census Bureau will initially collect responses from people for the 2020 Census: online, by phone, and by mail.

By April 1, 2020, you will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. Once the invitation arrives, you should respond for your home.

Starting in May 2020, the Census Bureau will begin following up in person with homes that have not responded to the census.

Counting Everyone in the Right Place

To ensure a complete and accurate count, the Census Bureau counts people at their usual residence, which is the place where they live and sleep most of the time, with a few exceptions. People who do not have a usual residence should be counted where they are on Census Day (April 1, 2020).

The Census Bureau has special processes in place to ensure that everyone in the 50 states, District of Columbia and five U.S. territories is counted. To learn more, please visit the following pages:

If you have questions about how to count yourself, or someone in your family, visit Who to Count.

For the first time, you'll be able to respond to the census online, by phone, or by mail. Sign up for the latest news and updates.

Impact in Your Community

School lunches. Plans for highways. Support for firefighters and families in need. Census results affect your community every day.

The results of the 2020 Census will help determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding flow into communities every year for the next decade. That funding shapes many different aspects of every community, no matter the size, no matter the location.

Think of your morning commute: Census results influence highway planning and construction, as well as grants for buses, subways, and other public transit systems.

Or think of your local schools: Census results help determine how money is allocated for the Head Start program and for grants that support teachers and special education.

The list goes on, including programs to support rural areas, to restore wildlife, to prevent child abuse, to prepare for wildfires, and to provide housing assistance for older adults.

Curious about what other programs are impacted by census data? Download this report to see a full list.

Importance of Data

The 2020 Census will determine congressional representation, inform hundreds of billions in federal funding, and provide data that will impact communities for the next decade.

The 2020 Census will provide a snapshot of our nation—who we are, where we live, and so much more.

The results of this once-a-decade count determine the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives. They are also used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.

Over the next decade, lawmakers, business owners, and many others will use 2020 Census data to make critical decisions. The results will show where communities need new schools, new clinics, new roads, and more services for families, older adults, and children.

The results will also inform how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated to more than 100 programs, including Medicaid, Head Start, block grants for community mental health services, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. 

The U.S. Constitution mandates that the country count its population once every 10 years. The results are used to adjust or redraw electoral districts, based on where populations have increased or decreased.

State legislatures or independent bipartisan commissions are responsible for redrawing congressional districts. The U.S. Census Bureau provides states with population counts for this purpose.

Federal Funding

The results of the 2020 Census will inform decisions about allocating hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding to communities across the country—for hospitals, fire departments, school lunch programs, and other critical programs and services.

Learn more about how census results can have an impact on your community.

 

Ways to Respond

There are three ways to respond to the 2020 Census.

By April 1, 2020, every home will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. You will have three options for responding:

  • Online.
  • By phone.
  • By mail.

In mid-March, households will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census.

  
A man at a table uses a tablet.

By April 1, 2020, every home will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. You will have three options for responding:

  • Online.
  • By phone.
  • By mail.

In mid-March, households will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census.

Video Guide to Completing the 2020 Census Online

Different Timelines and Processes for Some Locations​

If you live in the following locations, there will be some differences in your timeline for completing the 2020 Census or in the ways you can respond:

  • Puerto Rico.
  • The U.S. Island Areas (American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands).
  • Very remote areas, such as parts of northern Maine and Alaska.
  • Areas that experienced a natural disaster.
  • Group living arrangements, such as on-campus student housing, correctional facilities, military bases, health care facilities, and shelters.

Special Circumstances

For some people, it's not clear how they should count themselves or the people in their home. These circumstances may include:

  • People who live in more than one place.
  • People who are moving on Census Day (April 1, 2020).
  • People who are born or die on Census Day (April 1, 2020).
  • People experiencing homelessness.

For more information, visit Who To Count.

Schedule an Appointment

Need help with the census or want to learn more about it? Schedule an appointment with one of our case managers who can help guide you.