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2020 census: Here's what you need to know

For the first time, residents will be able to fill out the census online.

The 2020 census is off and running.

The U.S. Census Bureau launched its 2020 census website on March 9 and began mailing out notices nationwide March 12. It is the first time in history that individuals will be able to fill it out online.

For the first time, most people are being encouraged to answer the questions online, though they can still answer by telephone or return the form by mail.

The U.S. Census has been held once a decade since 1790. The results will determine how many congressional seats each state gets and how $1.5 trillion in federal spending gets distributed. The federal funds support a plethora of programs, including services that are critical for schools and children. Special education and after school programs, food assistance, health programs and free or reduced-price school lunches are all affected by census results. 

Census workers will go door-to-door in May to ask the questions in homes that haven't responded. However, the COVID-19 outbreak could disrupt this, since disaster plans call for workers to drop off questionnaires with the hope that people will respond on their own.  

Here are some key facts about this year's census: 

When is census day? 

Census day is April 1, 2020, but it technically officially started on Jan. 21, 2020 in Toksook Bay, Alaska. The census begins earlier for remote areas of Alaska because the areas are usually hard to access after the ground thaws. Additionally, residents living in these areas often leave during the spring to fish and hunt and find warm-weather jobs. 

Most families can begin filling out their forms mid-March, when census documents are mailed.

How do you take the census?

The 2020 census will be the first in history that is available online and by phone. Traditional paper forms will still be available. In rural areas, like certain parts of Alaska, census workers will reach out in person via unique modes of transportation such as bush plane, dogsled and snowmobile

Census workers will also knock on doors to conduct interviews.

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Who can take the census?

The U.S. census includes every living person in the U.S regardless of citizenship and immigration status. People who are visiting the country on vacation or for work are not counted in the census. Residents are counted at the address where they usually live and sleep, even if they are currently on vacation, traveling outside of the U.S. or working elsewhere. 

The Census bureau also has guidelines for counting residents with unique living situations such as deployed troops and college students.

What is on the census?

Every census is slightly different, but for the most part the 2020 census questions will be similar to recent ones. It will ask basic questions like: 

  • The number of people in the household.
  • Whether you own or rent your home.
  • Name, age, sex and date of birth for each person in the household.
  • Race and ethnicity

The newest census will include new relationship categories that allow couples living together to identify as same-sex or opposite-sex.

What languages will the census be given in?

Paper forms for the census are available in English and Spanish. It will be available online in 12 non-English languages: Spanish, Chinese (Simplified), Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian, Creole, Portuguese and Japanese.

Additionally, glossaries and video guides will be available in 59 non-English languages as well as American Sign Language, braille and large print.

Will there be a citizenship question on the census?

There will not be a question asking residents to identify whether or not they are a citizen of the United States on the census. In late June, the Supreme Court put a block on the idea of a “citizenship question” in the 2020 census.
Following the high court's block, the Trump administration decided not to fight the decision any further and removed the question from the census.

The question has been asked before, and was first introduced in the 1820 census. Since 1820, the question of citizenship has appeared in the 1830, 1870 and 1890 census.

Critics of the citizenship question said asking residents their citizenship status in the current political climate would discourage non citizens from participating, leading to inaccurate results.

When do the results get released?

The population counts for the 2020 census will be released by Dec 31, 2020.