What is the census?

The U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 2) mandates a census every 10 years to count every person living in the U.S. The first official census was conducted in 1790. Today, the census counts people living in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Island Areas. This includes people of all ages, races, ethnic groups, citizens and noncitizens.

When does the census take place?

Census Day is April 1, 2020.

Do I have to complete the census?

Yes. Federal law requires everyone living in the U.S. to participate in the census.

How can I respond?

The 2020 census offers options for residents to complete their forms by phone, mail, and for the first time, online. People will be encouraged to use the online option if possible.

Will I receive a letter with instructions on how to complete the survey?

In mid-March 2020, most addresses in the United States will receive a postcard with instructions to participate online, but you will also have the option to respond via phone or mail.

What happens if I do not respond by April 1, 2020?

Through spring and summer 2020, Census Bureau employees will follow up in-person at addresses that have not yet submitted the census form.

Are my responses safe and secure?

The Census Bureau is taking strong precautions to keep census data secure. The Census Bureau is securing online responses by using multiple layers of encryption and is working with the federal intelligence community and private industry, so it can quickly identify and respond to any external threats to its databases.

Will the Census Bureau keep my responses confidential?

Federal law requires the Census Bureau to protect any personal information collected and keep data strictly confidential. The law requires the Census Bureau to use data only for statistical purposes.

To support historical research, Title 44 of the U.S. Code allows the National Archives and Records Administration to release census records only after 72 years.

All Census Bureau staff take a lifetime oath to protect your personal information. Any violation comes with a penalty of up to $250,000 and/or up to 5 years in prison.

Can my responses be used against me?

By law, your census responses cannot be used against you by any government agency or court in any way — not by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, not by the Central Intelligence Agency, not by the Department of Homeland Security and not by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The law requires the Census Bureau to keep information confidential and use responses only to produce statistics.

Is English language proficiency required to participate in the 2020 census?

No. The complete online census questionnaire will be available in 12 languages other than English. Telephone responses will be accepted in the same languages. Paper forms will be available in English and Spanish. Language guides and glossaries will be available in 59 non-English languages, plus Braille.

If I don’t have access to the internet at home, can I still be counted?

You can complete the online questionnaire using a smartphone or desktop internet kiosk that may be available at local post offices, libraries and other community centers. Residents can also complete the survey by phone or using the traditional paper questionnaire.  

How does the Census Bureau help me identify scams?

The Census Bureau will never ask for:

  • Full social security number
  • Money or donations
  • Anything on behalf of a political party
  • Your full bank or credit card account numbers

If anyone claiming to be a census worker asks for these items, consider it a scam.

How can I identify an official census worker?

If a field representative from the Census Bureau visits your house, he or she:

  • Must present an ID Badge, which contains a photograph of the field representative, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date.
  • Will provide you with supervisor contact information and/or the regional office phone number for verification, if asked.
  • Will provide you with a letter from the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau on Census Bureau letterhead.
  • May be carrying a laptop and/or bag with a Census Bureau logo.

Where should I be counted?

People who live at two or more residences (during the week, month or year), such as people who travel seasonally between residences (for example, snowbirds or children in joint custody) are counted at the residence where they live and sleep most of the time. If usual residence cannot be determined, they are counted at the residence where they are staying on April 1, 2020.

College students living away from their parental home while attending college in the U.S. (living either on-campus or off-campus) are counted at the on-campus or off-campus residence where they live and sleep most of the time. Those staying in shelters or living outdoors are counted where they are staying on April 1, 2020.

What if I am away from my residence on April 1, 2020?

People away from their usual residence on census day, such as on a vacation or a business trip, visiting, traveling outside the U.S., or working elsewhere without a usual residence at that location (for example, as a truck driver or traveling salesperson) are counted at the residence where they live and sleep most of the time.

When will census results be available?

The Census Bureau should release total population counts from the 2020 census for the nation and each state in late 2020 or early 2021.

In 2021, the Census Bureau will provide census demographic data on race and the voting age population to state governments, so state officials can redraw the boundaries of their U.S. Congressional and state legislative districts. Public Law 94-171 requires that the Census Bureau to deliver redistricting data to state officials within one year of census day or no later than April 1, 2021.