What is the Decennial Census
Every 10 years, the federal government conducts a population count of everyone in the United States. Data from the census provide the basis for distributing more than $675 billion in federal funds annually to communities across the country to support vital programs—impacting housing, education, transportation, employment, health care, and public policy. They also are used to redraw the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts and accurately determine the number of congressional seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Why is it important to me?
Responding to the census is not only your civic duty; it also affects the amount of funding your community receives, how your community plans for the future, and your representation in government. Specifically, data from the 2020 Census are used to:
- Ensure public services and funding for schools, hospitals, and fire departments.
- Plan new homes and businesses and improve neighborhoods.
- Determine how many seats your state is allocated in the House of Representatives.
When will I complete the Census?
The next census will take place in 2020. Beginning in mid-March, people will receive a notice in the mail to complete the 2020 Census. Once you receive it, you can respond online. In May, the U.S. Census Bureau will begin following up in person with households that haven’t responded to the census.
How can I respond?
In 2020, for the first time ever, the U.S. Census Bureau will accept responses online, but you can still respond by phone or mail if you prefer. Responding should take less time than it takes to finish your morning coffee.
Do I have to respond to the Census?
Simple answer: Yes.
More complex answer: Respond when contacted the first time – if only to save taxpayers’ funds.
If you are living in the United States, you are legally required to respond to the U.S. Census and could be subject to a fine or limited prison term for non-compliance or false answers. However, the U.S. Census Bureau is not a prosecuting agency; and failure to provide information is unlikely to result in a fine. Instead, Census Bureau staff work to achieve cooperation and high response rates by helping the public understand that responding to the Census is a matter of civic responsibility and that data from the census has benefits that span across government, industry, and profession.
Moreover, your quick response to the Census will ensure cost-efficiency in the use of taxpayer funds for the conduct of the Census. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that, in 2010, it cost the Census Bureau approximately $0.42 per housing unit if the household returned the survey that they received in the mail. On the other hand, if the initial survey was not answered, the Census Bureau had to spend another $98 per housing unit (or $57 per person) to collect the data.
So help the Census Bureau keep its costs down—and save the taxpayers’ dollars—by responding to the first mail contact.
What information will be requested?
The Census Bureau will never ask for:
- Social Security numbers.
- Bank or credit card account numbers.
- Money or donations.
- Anything on behalf of a political party.
Will my information be kept confidential?
Strict federal law protects your census responses. It is against the law for any Census Bureau employee to disclose or publish any census information that identifies an individual. Census Bureau employees take a lifelong pledge of confidentiality to handle data responsibly and keep respondents’ information private. The penalty for wrongful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years, or both. No law enforcement agency (not the DHS, ICE, FBI, or CIA) can access or use your personal information at any time. Data collected can only be used for statistical purposes that help inform important decisions, including how much federal funding your community receives. The Census Bureau has a robust cybersecurity program that incorporates industry best practices and federal security standards for encrypting data.
How do I distinguish between an authentic U.S. Census Bureau contact and fradulent activity and scams?
The U.S. Census Bureau will never ask for:
- Your Social Security number
- Your mother’s maiden name
- Money or donations
- Credit card or bank account information
- Your personal information through email
If a field representative comes to your home, he or she will always have official Census ID.
- How to identify a Census Field Representative
- How to identify a call from an interviewer
- How to detect and report phishing and scams
Download and post this helpful flyer on detecting scams prepared by the Washington State Attorney General's Office.
What does "residednce" mean and how do I count the "residents" in my house?
The general rule of thumb is to count people at their usual residence, which is defined as the place where they live and sleep most of the time. Still, in today’s world where everyone is on the go, sometimes that simple definition is not enough. See the document below for answers to many questions about how and where to count: people away from their residence on census day; people who live or stay in more than one place; college students; people in health care facilities; foreigners and visitors; U.S. military; homeless; and so many more residency situations.