You Count! So, be counted in the 2020 Census

The 2020 Census is the single largest civilian governmental undertaking in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau’s official goal is to ensure that “everyone is counted once, only once and in the right place.”

The primary constitutional purpose for the decennial census is to determine how many congressional representatives each state will have for the next decade and to ensure equal representation in the redistricting process. For instance, congressional districts and the boundaries of your city ward are determined by census numbers. States also use the totals to redraw their legislative and school districts. 

Population counts and statistics derived from both the decennial census and other surveys determine the annual allocation of more than $800 billion in federal investment across states, counties, and cities. While many financial assistance programs and block grants, like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), are distributed to cities based on American Community Survey (ACS) statistics, the benchmark for all ACS data is the decennial census.

The U.S. Census matters to Oklahoma. According to the GW Institute of Public Policy, for each Oklahoman not counted, it is estimated that Oklahoma loses a potential of $1,675 in federal funding.  Also, if Oklahoma’s population is undercounted by one percent, Oklahoma loses a potential of $47.2 million in federal funding. In other words, $47.2 million Oklahoma paid in taxes is going to fund another state.

Academic institutions, medical facilities, businesses of all sizes and all levels of government rely on census data to inform their research, decision making, and planning. While the decennial census only asks a few basic questions, the population counts and demographic data that it produces serve as a benchmark for most other current statistics that help us gain deeper insights into our communities. 

The population totals also affect funding in your community, and data collected in the census helps decision makers know how your community is changing. Approximately $675 billion in federal funding is distributed to communities each year.

How will you be counted? Every household will have the option of responding online, by mail, or by phone. Nearly every household will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census from either a postal worker or a census worker.  95% of households will receive their census invitation in the mail. Almost 5% of households will receive their census invitation when a census taker drops it off. In these areas, the majority of households may not receive mail at their home’s physical location, for example, households that use PO boxes or areas recently affected by natural disasters. Less than 1% of households will be counted in person by a census taker, instead of being invited to respond on their own. This is done primarily in very remote areas like parts of northern Maine, remote Alaska, and select American Indian areas that ask to be counted in person.

What about confidentiality? All responses to Census Bureau surveys and censuses are confidential and protected under Title 13 of the U.S. Code. Under this law, the Census Bureau is required to keep respondent information confidential. The Census Bureau will never share a respondent’s personal information with immigration enforcement agencies, like ICE; law enforcement agencies, like the FBI or police; or allow it to be used to determine their eligibility for government benefits. The results from any census or survey are reported in statistical format only.

Individual records from the decennial censuses are, by law (Title 44, U.S. Code), confidential for 72 years. In addition, under Title 13, U.S. Code, all Census Bureau employees swear a lifetime oath to protect respondent data. It is a felony for any Census Bureau employee to disclose any confidential census information during or after employment, and the penalty for wrongful disclosure is up to 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $250,000.

The U.S. Census Bureau must submit state population totals to the President of the United States by December 31, 2020. 

The U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 2) mandates a headcount every 10 years of everyone residing in the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the Island Areas of the United States. This includes people of all ages, races, ethnic groups, citizens, and noncitizens. The first census was conducted in 1790 and one has been conducted every 10 years since then.