The 2020 Census Has Begun. Here Are 5 Things You Need To Know

Census Metra train
Local officials decorated Metra train cars to encourage participation in the census this year. Invitations to participate in Census 2020 will begin arriving in mailboxes Thursday. Minju Park / WBEZ News
Census Metra train
Local officials decorated Metra train cars to encourage participation in the census this year. Invitations to participate in Census 2020 will begin arriving in mailboxes Thursday. Minju Park / WBEZ News

The 2020 Census Has Begun. Here Are 5 Things You Need To Know

Invitations to participate in the 2020 census will start arriving in mailboxes Thursday, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That means residents who get those mailers can log onto the website my2020census.gov and fill out their questionnaires using their provided census ID.

Here are five things to know about this year’s census:

What to do when you get the mailer

There are three ways to respond — online, over the phone, and using a paper questionnaire. However, according to the census bureau, filling out the form online is the easiest and quickest way. The site, my2020census.gov, is accessible via computers, tablets, and smartphones.

For non-English speaking households, the census bureau provides over-the-phone language help with a list of more than a dozen numbers to call and get counted. See this link for the languages and phone numbers.

What questions will the census form ask

There are a total of nine questions, followed by extra pages asking for a few more details about each person living in the household. The questionnaire asks how many people live in the household as of April 1, 2020, and whether the household is owned or rented. For the person completing the form or “Person 1,” the questionnaire also asks for their age and sex, to identify their race, to state whether they are Hispanic or not, to write their country of origin and their phone number, in case there are clarifying questions from the census bureau.

After “Person 1” completes those questions, the same questions on race, age, sex, and Hispanic origin will be asked for all others living in the household — including infants and children. The census form also asks to specify each person’s relationship to the person completing the form, and whether they usually live elsewhere.

After much controversy and even a battle in the U.S. Supreme Court, a citizenship question, which the Trump administration was attempting to include on this year’s census, will not appear on the form. However, immigrant rights advocates say the damage has already been done.

What happens if you don’t respond

If residents don’t fill out the form online or over the phone after they receive the initial mailer, the census bureau will mail out reminder letters and postcards in the coming weeks. After that, non-respondents will receive a paper questionnaire. Toward the end of April, a final reminder postcard will be sent to non-participants.

If residents still don’t participate in the census, the bureau will follow up by sending out enumerators, who will knock on doors and count households in person between May and July.

When will we know the results

As required by law, the U.S. Census Bureau will deliver apportionment counts to the president and Congress in December 2020. The census bureau will send redistricting counts to states by March 31, 2021. Public release of the data will begin in spring 2021.

Why it matters

The census determines political representation and affects federal funding of numerous programs. Advocates are concerned about an undercount of residents in Illinois. Because the state has lost population in recent years, some fear that Illinois could lose up to two seats in Congress. Also at stake are billions of dollars in federal funding for programs — everything from road construction to early childhood programs. As census data is used in countless ways by businesses, researchers, policymakers, and others, an undercount of the population also affects residents in indirect ways.

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.