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2020 U.S. Census: Completing the Census

What about confidentiality and the "citizenship question"?

"All responses to Census Bureau surveys and censuses are confidential and protected under Title 13 of the U.S. Code. Under this law, the Census Bureau is required to keep respondent information confidential. We will never share a respondent's personal information with immigration enforcement agencies. like ICE; law enforcement agencies, like the FBI or police; or allow it to be used to determine their eligibility for government benefits.

The results from any census or survey are reported in statistical format only. Individual records from the decennial censuses are, by law (Title 44, U.S. Code), confidential for 72 years." - From page 3 of the 2020 Census complete Count Committee Guide, U.S. Census Bureau.

See also the Supreme Court's opinion on the citizenship question: DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE ET AL. v. NEW YORK

Be aware of scammers who may attempt to get your information by pretending to be representatives from the Census Bureau. The Census Bureau will never text or email you, nor will they ask you to provide a donation, financial information (credit card number, blank check, bank account/routing numbers, etc.), or a social security number.

What's new about the Census?

Online Self-Response

For the first time, the Census Bureau will promote online response as the preferred method. The Census Bureau's mailing list will include an ID code for the householder (that is, the person responding for each household) to enter when they respond online in order to identify their address. However, if respondents don't have an ID code, they can enter their home address instead

For many people, the online response option will make it easier and more convenient to respond. However, other people may prefer not to respond online, such as those with limited internet proficiency or who lack reliable internet access. If people have trouble with the online system or don't want to respond online, they can call Census Questionnaire Assistance for help or to respond by phone, also using the same unique ID number or giving their home address in the absence of one. 

Household Relationship Question

For the first time, the 2020 Census offers a way for the person filling out the form to indicate a same-sex relationship with another household member. This change (see Figure 1) is expected to improve national statistics on same-sex couples

How will the online response work?

Almost all households will receive an invitation letter in the mail with instructions for responding to the census online. The invitation will include a unique identification code called a Census ID or User ID. Using the Census ID helps the Bureau keep track of responses and prevent duplication. However, the Census ID is not required in order to respond online or by telephone. If respondents don’t have their Census ID handy, they can use their address instead

What questions should I expect?

As required by the Census Act, the U.S. Census Bureau submitted a list of questions to Congress on March 29, 2018. Based on those questions, the 2020 Census will ask:

  • How many people are living or staying in your home on April 1, 2020. This will help count the country's population, and ensure that people are counted once, only once, and in the right place according to where they live on Census Day.
  • Whether the home is owned or rented. This will help produce statistics about homeownership and renters. The rates of homeownership serve as one indicator of the nation's economy. They also help in administering housing programs and informing planning decisions.
  • About the sex of each person in the household. This allows the Census Bureau to create statistics about males and females, which can be used in planning and funding government programs. This data can also be used to enforce laws, regulations, and policies against discrimination.
  • About the age of each person in the household. Similar to recording the sex of each person, the U.S. Census Bureau creates statistics to better understand the size and characteristics of different age groups. Agencies use this data to plan and fund government programs that support specific age groups, including children and older populations. 
  • About the race of each person in the household. This allows the Census Bureau to create statistics about race and to present other statistics by racial groups. This data helps federal agencies monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions, such as under the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act.
  • About whether a person in the household is of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin. These responses help create statistics about this ethnic group. This is needed by federal agencies to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions, such as those under the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.
  • About the relationship of each person in the household to one central person. This allows the Census Bureau to create estimates about families, households, and other groups. Relationship data is used in planning and funding government programs that support families, including people raising children alone, and other households that qualify for additional assistance. 

The Census Will Never Ask Certain Questions 

The Census Bureau will never ask you for:

  • Your social security number
  • Money or donations
  • Anything on behalf of a political party
  • Your bank or credit card account numbers

If someone claiming to be from the Census Bureau asks you for one of these things, you may be the target or victim of a scam. For more information, visit Avoiding Fraud and Scams

Information for College Students

If you live in a DORM:

The Census Bureau classifies college dorms as "group quarters." They will contact the university to get information about those living in the dorms separately. You will not fill out the census! If you have a permanent address other than the dorms (like your parents' house), make sure the people at that address DO NOT count you on their form.

If you live OFF CAMPUS (in an apartment, etc.):

You'll fill out your own census form! If you live with roommates or other people, select one person to be your "house holder" and have them fill out the form. You should sit with them as they fill out the form to make sure the information they give about you is accurate! If you have a permanent address other than the dorms (like your parents' house), make sure the people at that address DO NOT count you on their form.

If you live WITH FAMILY (commuter students):

Make sure you or someone in your family fills out the form and includes you!


Information contained in this subject guide was adapted from the American Library Association publication Libraries' Guide to the 2020 Census, and