Advertising for the 2020 census began last month, but unless you live in the frozen hinterlands of Alaska you probably didn’t notice. That’s because the early media campaign was aimed at the residents of 220 small native Alaskan fishing villages, where census takers will begin in a few weeks to count heads. Their motivation is simple: They must start while the ground is still frozen or their efforts could bog down permanently.
The rest of the nation will have to wait until March to begin filling out the once-a-decade census questionnaires that seek to learn how many people – both citizens and non-citizens – call the U.S. home, along with information about age, sex, living arrangements, sources of income and dozens of other questions.
Households have the option to respond to the questionnaires, which will begin arriving in the mail in March, by going online, by mail or by phone. And, yes, participation is mandatory and refusal can result in a fine.
If you don’t respond to the 2020 census, the U.S. Census Bureau will send up to five mailings to your address and an enumerator to your door. Evidently, numerators (specially trained Census Bureau employees who collect information in person) don’t give up easily. For up to six days (with the possibility of more than one contact attempt per day), an enumerator will attempt to gather census information from someone in the household. After three days of failed attempts, an enumerator may begin contacting neighbors to request a proxy response for the non-responding household. Wouldn’t it be easier just to hand over the information?
Obtaining an accurate count of our country’s inhabitants is crucial for a number of reasons, foremost among them being that the numbers determine how to reapportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. State and local officials also use census results to help draw congressional, state and local district boundaries to meet the one-person, one vote rule; governments and non-profits rely on census data to determine the need for new roads, hospitals, schools, and other public sector investments; and census data were used to distribute more than $675 billion in federal funds to states and local communities for health, education, housing and infrastructure programs in a recent year.
April 1, 2020, is considered the official Census Day, and the Census Bureau will publish apportionment population counts (used to redistribute the 435 seats in the U.S. House) within nine months or by Dec. 31, 2020.
The government has made the process as painless as possible by allowing for multiple methods of responding to the questions, which are confidential. In essence, we must count ourselves to be fairly represented by those we elect. Help ensure that fairness by offering your participation and encouraging family and friends to do likewise.