By law, the U.S. government is required to count the number of people living in the United States every 10 years. Getting an accurate count is important because census numbers impact daily life in the United States in many ways. For example, census data are often used to determine how much federal funding is allocated for important projects and services that benefit local communities. The census also plays a vital role in our nation’s system of government by determining how many representatives will be sent to Congress from each state.
Because getting an accurate count is so important, the process is designed to be fast, easy, and safe. On average, it takes no more than 10 minutes to answer the questions on the census.
How Are Census Data Collected?
During the first census in 1790, census takers visited nearly every U.S. home to gather data.
In 2020, households will have the option of responding online, by mail, or by phone. The Census Bureau expects many households to complete the questionnaire online, using instructions received in the mail. These instructions will also include information about how to respond by phone. Some households will receive a printed questionnaire that they can mail, postage-free, back to theCensus Bureau. A small percentage of households, primarily located in remote areas of the country, will be visited by a census taker who will help collect the necessary information to complete the form.
Who Receives the Census Questionnaire and How Is It Filled Out?
Most housing units in the United States that receive mail at their physical location will receive a letter by mail with instructions on how to complete the census questionnaire. Housing units include houses, apartments, cabins, mobile homes—pretty much any place where people live in the United States. In areas where the majority of housing units do not have mail delivered to their physical location, census workers will leave questionnaire packages at every identified housing unit.
The census process also includes special provisions to count people who are homeless and those in other types of living quarters, such as college dorms, military barracks, ships, prisons, nursing homes, and homeless shelters. The person in the housing unit who fills out the census questionnaire or talks to the census taker is known as Person 1. Typically, Person 1 is the owner/co-owner or renter/co-renter of the housing unit.
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WHY DO WE TAKE THE CENSUS?
- The U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 2) mandates a headcount every l0 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 non-citizens. The first census was conducted in l790 and has been carried out every l0 years since then. The next census occurs in 2020. The population totals from this census will determine the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives. States also use the totals to redraw their legislative districts. The U.S. Census Bureau must submit state population totals to the President of the United States by December 3l, 2020. The totals also affect funding in your community, and data collected in the census help inform decision-makers how your community is changing. Approximately $675 billion in federal funding is distributed to communities each year. Will the 2020 Census be the same as 2010? No, there are some important changes: • We will introduce new technology to make it easier than ever to respond to the census. There are more options for self-response. • For the first time, you will be able to respond online, by phone, and by mail. • We will use data that the public has already provided to cut down on household visits. • We are building a more refined address list and automating our field operations—all while keeping your information confidential and safe.
HOW ARE CENSUS DATA USED?
- Census data are widely and wisely used. Determining congressional seats and federal funding is just a hint of the many important uses of census data. Take a look at the examples below and refer to the appendix for even more uses of census data. (See Appendix A: 50 Ways Census Data Are Used.) The federal government uses population data to allocate funds in a number of areas: • Title l grants to educational agencies (school districts across the nation). • Head Start programs. • Federal grant programs, like the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. • Public transportation. • Road rehabilitation and construction. • Programs for the elderly. • Emergency food and shelter. • Empowerment zones. In addition, the data help: • The private sector, state, and federal governments determine where jobs and job programs are needed. • Potential homeowners research property values, median income, and other demographic information about a particular community.
ARE CENSUS DATA REALLY CONFIDENTIAL?
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