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Overview of the Census

The upcoming 2020 census effort aims to fulfill a basic Constitutional requirement of designating the allocation of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives based on the distribution of individuals living within the United States. This primary function of the comprehensive population count that takes place every ten years is mandated by the country’s founding document:


Article I, Section 2:

The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 2:

Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State

However, the scope of the impact of the census goes far beyond meeting a Constitutional responsibility, just as the efforts go far beyond a simple headcount.

In broad strokes, the goal of conducting a census of the U.S. population is to “count everyone once, only once, and in the right place.” For the first time, the 2020 census will include an online response collection component that will boost the on-the-ground approach of “knocking on doors” that has been used historically. The Census Bureau has divided this project in a number of stages:


1.       Establishing Where to Count

By defining where in the country people live, the Bureau is able to establish where to reach them in order to secure their participation in the count. Rather than verifying address through field efforts as has been done in prior years, the 20202 census includes an address verification process that relies on data sources such as the U.S. Postal Service, local governments, satellite imagery and third-party data providers. This cost-saving approach is expected to eliminate the need to manually verify roughly 62 percent of addresses with field officers.


2.              Motivating People to Respond

In order to curtail the need for expensive outreach at the local level, the 2020 census will undergo an extensive communications and outreach campaign, the strategy for which will include digital media. The Bureau will also look to leverage national and local partnerships in order to encourage participation.


3.              Counting the Population

Central to the Bureau’s efforts is successfully counting each person living in the country, regardless of atypical living arrangements. Use of the first online survey will remove a number of hurdles to securing responses. However, this comes with its own challenges, such as security and rural connectivity, as 2020 is the first year in which this method will be used. Additionally, following extensive online outreach and communications efforts to encourage participation and reduce the need for in-person visits, the Bureau will initiate the use of a trained field team to conduct interviews and secure accurate data.


4.              Releasing the Census Results

Once extensive national data has been collected, compiled and analyzed, the results of the 2020 census will be made available to the President by December 31, 2020 for the purpose of apportioning House seats, to the states by April 1, 2021 for redistricting, and will be made available to the public in December 2021.


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