Starting today, households across the county began receiving invitations to complete the census online or on the phone. Some will also receive census questionnaires in the mail.
It’s a major step in what’s expected to be the largest ever official population count in the United States. The results of the 2020 census will impact the lives of people around the country. And everyone living in the U.S. plays a role in shaping them.
The census is a big deal. It happens every 10 years and determines how many representatives each state gets in Congress, and how billions of dollars in federal funding gets spent. Schools, roads, and other important things in your community will gain — or lose — funding over the next 10 years depending on this official population tally.
This is something the Census Bureau has been emphasizing in a $500 million outreach campaign featuring more than 1,000 ads that have been hitting the airwaves for months. Why? Because, according to experts, when people learn why the census is important, they’re more likely to respond.
The census is required by the Constitution.
And on the envelopes en route to mailboxes across America, the message is clear — printed in bold letters on the outside of the envelope: “YOUR RESPONSE IS REQUIRED BY LAW.”
What if you refuse to respond or want to skip a question? You can be fined, according federal statutes.
This year there’s a significant change to how people are being counted.
It’s the first time all households in the United States will have the chance to respond online.
That’s raised concerns from some cybersecurity experts and lawmakers. But Census officials stress that the online questionnaires will be secure.
Everyone living in the United States is supposed to be counted by the census, whether they’re citizens or not.
The Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from putting a citizenship question on the census. But even though that question isn’t in the mix, there are still concerns about whether the months-long debate over it will influence response rates.
Worried some people will be scared to respond to the census, advocates who work with immigrant communities have been doubling down on their outreach efforts in recent months.
Fielding questions at a recent event in Washington, Census officials stressed that Title 13 of the U.S. Code guarantees that personal information provided for the census is confidential.
“I can assure you that not only does the law require us to do our job professionally and protect confidential information, but we have all the systems in place — the most sophisticated systems available — to protect the information,” Director Steven Dillingham said.
The arrival of census mailings coincides with the unfolding coronavirus pandemic.
It’s too soon to know what that will mean for the 2020 census. But it’s on the minds of lawmakers, officials and census workers.
Sen. Tina Smith, who along with several Democratic colleagues sent a letter to the Census Bureau last week asking about coronavirus plans, said she’s worried in the wake of coronavirus officials may rely too much on internet responses, something she fears could result in undercounting communities.
“It’s a great concern,” she said.