What you need to know about the 2020 census

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Know what to expect when the census starts March 12. Graphic by IUPUI Team Social

With a new decade upon us, it's time for the United States' 10-year roll call -- the census. It does require a little more work than saying "present" or raising your hand, but not much.

For the first time in the U.S. Census Bureau's history, the census can be completed online. It will be available from March 12 to May 12. You can also respond by phone or request a hard copy of the survey. However you choose to complete it, participating in the census is vital while living the United States.

Important for students: Students living in university housing do not have to complete census forms individually, as they will be reported through group quarters counts by the university.

For everyone else, the census should be completed based on where they are living on April 1. If students are living away from home, they should count themselves separately from their families. The U.S. Census Bureau will begin following up in person at the end of April for those who have not filled out the census.

Full participation in the 2020 census is drastically important, as the results measure the country's demographics, determine how businesses invest and measure progress, help distribute power at every level of government, and allocate more than $675 billion annually to communities across the nation.

The census count sets the parameters for political boundaries and federal funding for critical areas such as:

  • Education (Title 1, Federal Pell Grant, Head Start, National School Lunch Program, etc.).
  • Housing (Section 8, Community Development Block Grants, Low Income Home Energy Assistance, Supportive Housing for the Elderly, etc.).
  • Health care (Medicare, SNAP, WIC, Community Mental Health Services Block Grants, etc.).
  • Transportation (Highway Planning and Construction, Federal Transit Metropolitan Planning Grants, etc.).
  • Emergency services (Emergency Food Assistance Program, etc.).
  • Well-being (Small Business Development Grants, Adoption Assistance, etc.).

All people, regardless of legal status, should complete the census knowing the information is confidential and protected under Title 13 of the United States Code. Census responses cannot be shared with anyone, including law enforcement, immigration, tax agencies or the president of the United States. Census records remain unavailable for 72 years, and U.S. Census Bureau employees take an oath to protect responses or be subject to a fine of up to $250,000 and/or five years in federal prison.

Dates to know

  • March 12-20: Invitation in the mail to respond online.
  • March 16-24: Initial reminder letter.
  • March 26-April 3: Follow-up reminder letter.
  • April 8-16: Reminder letter and paper questionnaire.
  • April 20-27: Final reminder letter before the U.S. Census Bureau begins to follow up in person.