The census, conducted once every ten years, is the constitutionally-required count of every person living in the United States. It's a huge and complex endeavor, one with an enormous impact on all our communities. The 2020 Census will be the first to urge most households to respond online, but people will have the option of responding by phone or paper questionnaire.
The decennial census form asks questions about all the people who live and sleep in a household most of the time--including babies and anyone who has no other permanent place to stay and is staying on the household--as of April 1, 2020. The census form should take about 10 minutes to complete, depending on the number of people in the household.
Census data are used to make decisions about how and where to spend more than $800 billion each year for programs and services that communities rely on. The census population count is used to determine representation in Congress (known as reapportionment) and the Electoral College. Simply put, communities that are undercounted are disadvantaged economically and politically.
Communities also use census data for planning purposes. For example, local school districts may not be able to plan effectively for changing needs if large numbers of young children are not counted, as has been the case in previous censuses. Census data help local leaders make planning decisions about where municipal services should be located, whether they should expand, and what kinds of services should be offered based on the characteristics of the community.
The "citizenship question" will NOT be included in the 2020 Census.
Much has been made about potentially including a question about whether or not census respondents are American citizens. Three federal courts have since blocked the Trump Administration's attempt to get this question onto census forms.
The Trump Administration's Perspective
During his testimony before Congress, the Secretary of Commerce (the department which distributes the Census), Wilbur Ross, said the question was added because Justice Department requested more citizenship data to help enforce the Voting Rights Act. Members of the administration--and some Supreme Court Justices--also stated that questions about citizenship were nothing new and that similar questions have been included in most US Censuses. Many historians have stated that this is an oversimplification. Regardless, the citizenship question was defeated in court, as the Trump administration was unable to prove that its motives for including the question were related to the Voting Rights Act. President Trump offered this statement in response and issued an executive order to collect citizenship data via other agencies.
The Arguments Against The Citizenship Question
Protesters argued that questions of citizenship have previously been used to the detriment of non-citizens, including the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. They also argued that citizens and non-citizens alike may choose not to answer the question or not to take the census out of fear or as a form of protest, resulting in inaccurate data. Specifically, detractors were worried that this would lead to an undercount of vulnerable populations who already lack political power. For a scholarly challenge to the citizenship question, use Discovery Search to find more information.