Civics for Citizens: We All Count in the 2020 Census

Type: Blog
Subject: Civic and Voter Education
By: Andrew Goodman Foundation

Whether this year’s census will be the first one you remember, or even if you’ve seen a few, the 2020 Census is the event of the decade. You won’t want to miss it! When it comes to the details you need to know to make sure you and your community are counted, Civics for Citizens has got you covered.

What will be on the census questionnaire? 

The confidential questionnaire asks for information about your housing situation, how many people are in your residence, your relationship to one another, as well as other questions around general demographics. There will not, however, be a question asking you to disclose your citizenship status. The official 2020 Census website has a sample questionnaire you can view, and a list of questions which will be asked. The website also includes an explanation of why the question is being asked.

How should I fill out my questionnaire?

Anxious about how to respond to your census questionnaire or worried about getting it right? Watch this Video Guide to Completing the 2020 Census Online to feel prepared and ready for your questionnaire, if you’ll be responding online, an option available for the first time in 2020. You can also still respond by phone or mail, so there’s no need to fear!

Each household, including students living off campus, should designate one person to complete the questionnaire, which is available in 12 languages in addition to English. Students residing on a college campus or in university-owned housing, however, don’t need to take immediate action. The institution will tell those students what to do and may even complete one questionnaire for all students living on campus or in university-owned buildings. All students, whether living on or off campus, should notify their parents or guardians not to count them at home to ensure they’re not double-counted!

How is census data used?

Census data impacts everything from redistricting and the number of Congressional seats your state receives, to the billions of dollars that need to be allocated to over 100 federal programs serving our communities. These programs include:

  • Community mental health services
  • School lunch programs
  • Highway construction
  • Federal Pell Grants

Important dates around the 2020 Census

The first Census Day was August 2, 1790, fulfilling the requirement of the Census Clause in our Constitution to count the U.S. population every 10 years. That first census only asked six questions, namely who the (white and male) head of household was, in addition to racial and age breakdowns of the other household residents. This included free white males over/under 16 years old, free white females, enslaved people, and anyone else residing in the home.

But that was then. Today, you might have heard that Census Day now falls on April 1st. However, there are several important dates both before and after April 1st to note. See the 2020 timeline outlined in our handy infographic on the left! You can find other interesting and important dates on the 2020 Census website, including 2021 deadlines by when the information collected must be shared with the states.

It’s almost here! How can I contribute?

Census Day is fast-approaching, but there are still steps you can take to make sure your community is informed and ready for this historic census count.

  • Familiarize yourself with key dates around the census, so you know what to expect and when to turn in your questionnaire.
  • Follow grassroots groups and organizations that are organizing within their communities around the census on social media. Pay particular attention to folks in your state. To get started, here’s a guide from the Census Bureau about Complete Count Committees, which are “volunteer committees established by tribal, state, and local governments and community leaders or organizations to increase awareness and motivate residents to respond to the 2020 Census.
  • Once you know who’s organizing in your community, reach out to see if there are any volunteer opportunities specific to your area. There are also numerous census jobs available!
  • Listen for common misconceptions or rumors you hear floating around. Become a 2020 Census mythbuster! Refer to our quick infographic and take a look through a sample questionnaire online.

Why is this all so important?

It’s crucial that the 2020 Census count is as accurate as possible. Why? An accurate census count helps to ensure that communities across the country are proportionately represented in Congress, and that they have access to necessary funds for services in the community (like those listed above).

However, it will not be easy to get an accurate count in hard-to-count populations. Hard-to-count populations vary and can include: low-income people, highly mobile people, racial and ethnic minorities, non-English speakers, undocumented immigrants, people with developmental or physical disabilities, and people who do not live in traditional housing (among others).

Complete Count Committees are instrumental in supporting and planning for an accurate count in hard-to-count communities. And it’s up to us all to get the word out about why it’s so important to participate in the 2020 Census. Stand up, be counted!

For more information, visit

About the Author

Paige Trubatch is the Programs and Office Assistant at The Andrew Goodman Foundation. She received her B.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College, with a focus on nonfiction. Prior to joining AGF, she worked at The Garden Club of America in the role of Information Coordinator, where she provided website support for a national network of local garden clubs, and as a Staff Administrator, where she supported the volunteer-led Communications and membership magazine committees. Paige is an AmeriCorps alum who remains passionate about volunteering, though these days she is finding more unique ways to be of service through online networks and communities from her home in the woods.


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