5 facts you probably didn’t know about the 2020 census

By April 1, every home will receive an invitation to participate

Lynchburg prepares for census and warns of scammers
Lynchburg prepares for census and warns of scammers

The census is a constitutional mandate and a way to keep track of the country’s population growth. Most people know the census counts us, but there’s more to it than just filling out the questionnaire. Here are five facts you probably didn’t know about this year’s census.

You can fill it out online

As technology advances, so does data collection. For the first time in the history of the census, people can fill out the questionnaire online providing a third way to contribute to the nationwide survey.

The caveat is that you still need to wait for instructions in the mail in order to fulfill your survey. Respondents can still answer via paper by mail, phone call or in-person with a census taker.

Note that in some remote places, the count will be conducted by in-person enumerators so not everyone may receive the online option.

10 years, 10-ish questions

The census is collected every ten years and only asks ten questions. Easy enough, right?

Three of the questions are variations of the number of members living in your household so you can’t really be wrong. Questions will ask the respondent about the race and ethnicity of those who live in the household, their birthdays and ages and relationship to the respondent.

One of those questions does ask for your phone number, but that is as private as it gets.

Warning: Most of the questions do have multiple parts.


Census offered in 13 languages

Since the census counts every person in the country and on U.S. territories they offer the survey in 13 languages. This is to accommodate the needs of the various people who live on the mainland, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands and Guam.

People who are not native English speakers can pick between Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

These options are available for the online questionnaire and via phone response. Starting March 9, respondents can also call Census Questionnaire Assistance in the same 13 languages if they need help or have a question about the survey.

Here are the Census Questionnaire Assistance phone numbers by language:

Chinese (Mandarin)844-391-2020
Chinese (Cantonese)844-398-2020
Haitian Creole844-477-2020
English (Puerto Rico residents)844-418-2020
Spanish (Puerto Rico residents)844-426-2020
Telephone Display Device (TDD)844-467-2020

In college? You count too

If you receive a census questionnaire at your dorm, you should fill it out and make sure mom back home doesn’t count you.

The Census Bureau has a way to count what they call group quarters like dorms, military bases and nursing homes.

For dorms, fraternity or sorority houses or other university housing options, a resident administrator will help count the student population. That means students will not respond directly to the Census Bureau.

Students who rent near the educational facility will self-respond. Each apartment unit or house will receive a questionnaire, so that means residents need to report roommates too.

Why do they count students on college campuses? Because the census count affects higher education and can help determine scholarships, campus facility improvements, extension programs and research.

The bureau also considers college students a hard-to-count population for a number of factors. One of the main reasons is because students often have temporary housing while attending school or live part-time at home (breaks, summers, gap semesters). Students may also belong to other hard-to-count populations like immigrants, people of color or people experiencing homelessness.

Point is, if you’re in school, you need to count yourself into the census. Tell your friends.

Census Bureau takes your privacy concerns seriously

It is against the law for the Census Bureau to publicly release responses. The information collected does not easily identify an individual or a household and by law, your responses can’t be used against a respondent.

The information collected can only be used to produce statistics.

If choosing to fill out the census online or via phone, take extra precautions and know the questionnaire will not ask for one’s citizenship status, banking information, mother’s maiden name or social security number. If you receive a suspicious letter, e-mail or phone call you can call the National Processing Center at 800-523-3205, 800-642-0469 or 800-877-8339 or forward e-mails to ois.fraud.reporting@census.gov.

About the Author: