Saturday, May 18, 2024

The 2020 Census is easy. The questions are simple. The 2020 Census will ask just a few questions and take a few minutes to respond.

  • The questions on the 2020 Census are simple. They ask about topics such as name, age, sex, Hispanic origin, race, and homeownership. We ask about more detailed topics each year on a smaller survey.
    • After the 2000 Census, we replaced the census long form with an annual survey to provide more timely information about the nation’s people, places and economy.
    • The American Community Survey now asks the questions about detailed socioeconomic characteristics like education, income, jobs (etc.) each year of a small sample of households.
  • The 2020 Census is one of the shortest in history.
  • Federal law protects your answers. It’s against the law for us to publicly release your responses in any way that could identify you or your household. Your answers can only be used to produce statistics.

Questions on the 2020 Census fulfill the Census Bureau’s constitutional mandate to provide data for congressional apportionment and state redistricting. In addition, these questions help enforce laws, regulations and policies against discrimination in government programs and society.

  • Congress has passed many laws that depend on census data. Laws like the Voting Rights Act requires the use of specific census data
  • Census data guide how more than $675 billion in federal funding is distributed to states and communities each year.



Your response to every 2020 Census question matters. Each is used to shape the future of the nation. Because each question is important — anytime you leave one blank — you increase the likelihood of a phone call or visit from a census taker.




Each question is important.


  • An accurate picture of the nation and your community is important. Responses from everyone in the nation are added together to paint a statistical portrait of the nation. That portrait drives decision-making, including funding available for your community’s schools, roads and hospitals. The data also help provide services and protect people from discrimination.
  • Your response to each question is also required by law.

Every answer is confidential.


  • By law, every answer to every question is confidential.
  • By law, your census responses cannot be used against you in any way.
  • Title 13 makes it very clear that the data we collect can only be used to produce statistics.
  • We cannot allow your responses to be used for anything else, including law enforcement or immigration enforcement.

If you leave a question blank, it increases the likelihood we will follow up with you by phone or in person.


  • The best way to ensure that a census taker does not need to collect information from your household in person is to provide complete responses to the 2020 Census online, by phone or by mail.


If pressed to publicly state that it’s ok to leave a question blank…

  • Responses to every question on the 2020 Census matter. Each question is used to paint a statistical portrait of the nation and responses are required by law. We highly encourage people to fill out the census as completely and accurately as possible. Leaving questions blank increases the likelihood we will follow up with you by phone or in person.
  • The Census Bureau’s role is to conduct a complete and accurate count of the entire nation — as directed by law. To communicate anything less than the importance of every question would undermine our legal mandate to conduct a complete and accurate count.

If pressed about a fine…


  • Because the census is so important, the law allows the courts to impose fines for not responding or for willfully providing false answers. The census law (Title 13, United States Code, Section 221), coupled with the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (Title 18, Sections 3551, 3559, and 3571), provides for penalties of up to $5,000 for not responding or for willfully providing false answers to any question.
  • However, our research shows that most people will respond when they understand the importance of the questions we ask and how the information benefits the community.
  • Census results affect your voice in government, how much funding your community receives, and how your community plans for the future. For example, census data guide how more than $675 billion in federal funding is distributed to states and communities each year. Census data also help your community create jobs, provide housing, prepare for emergencies, and build schools, roads and hospitals.

If pressed about what happens if we still have missing responses…

  • Questionnaires with incomplete information are still counted, but we encourage people to fill out the census as completely and accurately as possible. Leaving questions blank will increase the likelihood we will follow up with you by phone or in person.
  • In every census and survey we get incomplete responses. We have methods for addressing this, which can include the application of statistical methodology or administrative records as we produce the aggregate statistical products required of us. 


The Census Bureau is moving to a more advanced privacy protection system to better protect the public’s data from emerging threats.

The 2020 Census will be the world’s first large-scale data product using these new safeguards.

As we transition, we are taking additional, necessary steps to better protect the confidential data we use to produce our statistics.

The constitutionally mandated reapportionment process will not be affected by this new methodology.




The Census Bureau is transitioning to a new, state-of-the-art privacy protection system to keep pace with emerging threats in today’s digital world.

  • Throughout our history, we’ve been at the forefront of statistical data protection. With each advance in data science, we’ve applied better and stronger protections to keep the statistics we release anonymous.
  • Nearly a hundred years ago, Census Bureau staff started using statistical safeguards to prevent anyone from tracing statistics back to a specific company or person. For example, we made sure that we didn’t publish statistics unless they were based on enough cases to prevent disclosure using the methods known at the time.
  • Over the decades, as we developed and released more highly detailed data products, our methods to protect responses grew more sophisticated.
  • Today’s powerful computers and advances in mathematics, when combined with easily accessible “Big Data” outside our control, have increased the threats to privacy, and demand more aggressive responses.
  • New data analytics tools could make it possible to find common data points between different databases. This makes it possible in some cases to identify the people or businesses behind statistical databases.

The 2020 Census and future data products will use a powerful new privacy protection system known in scientific circles as “differential privacy,” designed specifically for the digital age.

  • Differential privacy is a formula-driven method that adds “statistical noise” to the tables we publish. The noise is calibrated in such a way that an individual’s true identity and responses are protected in our published statistics, even when many data publications are combined together. For areas that have a large number of people, the injected noise will be very small, but for areas with just a few people, there will be a lot of noise and it will offer a significant, quantifiable amount of privacy protection.
  • We calibrate the effects of the injected noise with a process that compares many protected tables to those created without privacy protection.
  • Differential privacy allows us to set an explicit level of protection that strikes an appropriate balance between the need for usable, accurate data with the need to control privacy risks. Census Bureau leadership define that level of protection in advance.
  • The higher the level of protection, the less precise some of the resulting statistics will be. The lower the protection, the more accurate the statistics will be.
  • That level of protection sets a worst-case limit on potential privacy vulnerability. It will be a known and published guarantee.
  • For the same level of protection, a differentially private 2020 Census data product will be significantly more accurate than data products produced using traditional methods.
  • Regardless of the new technology or data the future brings, the guaranteed level of protection in our 2020 Census data products will remain.


Moving to a differentially private protection system is a massive engineering and mathematical challenge for the decennial census, which produces statistics numbering in the billions.

  • The Census Bureau was the first organization worldwide to take the concept of differential privacy from theory into practice. We applied it to our OnTheMap job location data in 2008.
  • Expanding to our flagship products such as the 2020 Census and the American Community Survey – each with statistics numbering in the billions — is a much more complicated task.
  • The Census Bureau will release differentially private prototype redistricting data resulting from the 2018 End-to-End Census Test so that the public can see the quality of the new statistics.
  • We’ve been working to invent all of the engineering needed to apply differential privacy to decennial census data. Once we’ve succeeded there, we’ll work to apply these methods to all future data products.
  • Tech industry giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Uber are also adding differential privacy safeguards to their data collection work.

While we transition to the new safeguards, we’re also making changes to the way we make some data products available to the public.

  • The Census Bureau has a mandate to accurately measure our people, places and economy. We also have a legal mandate to protect your confidentiality.
  • While we transition to the new privacy system, we’re taking stock of all of the statistical products we produce. Ultimately, we must make decisions about how best to balance accurate statistical detail and privacy protection given these external threats.
  • Even with the new safeguards, protecting confidentiality requires us to restructure the data tables we produce. We are working with census data users to help us identify the levels of precision and geography that are essential to deliver statistics that are fit for specific uses.

The constitutionally mandated reapportionment process will not be affected by this new methodology.



Our goal is a complete and accurate census.

Overall, the 2010 Census was the most successful in our history, coming closer to a "zero" net overcount or undercount than any other before it. While research showed slight overcounts of some groups, it showed undercounts of others. Among these, young children under the age of 5 were more likely to be missed in the census than any other age group.

  • An estimated 5 percent of children under the age of 5 weren't counted; nearly 1 million kids.
  • In addition to young children, research over decades has shown that people who are renters, non-English speakers, low-income, or who change residences frequently are more likely to be missed in the census.
  • Across the entire population, the census estimated an overcount of one-one-hundredth of one percent of the population (0.01%), which is not statistically different from zero. This is the closest to the actual population count since we've been able to measure it.

Historically, for a variety of reasons, some groups of people are undercounted, including young children.

  • The more complex the household is, the greater the risk that a child or other person in that household won’t be included on the census questionnaire.
  • Examples of complex living situations include children living with grandparents or other relatives, or between two houses in a joint custody situation.
  • Confusion, fear and misunderstanding of who should be counted at an address contribute to the undercount.
  • Undercounting problems for children on the census is not new. The U.S. census and other censuses around the world have struggled with this issue for decades.

We are working on strategies to make sure the count of young children is as complete as possible for the 2020 Census.

  • There is no single cause for the undercount of children, so there is no single solution.
  • Our research looks at which young children are missed and why.
  • Understanding why children are undercounted will help us to pinpoint solutions.
  • We’re looking at ways to better get the word out about counting young children and how to best use outreach and partnerships to do so. For example, we plan to advertise to young mothers and grandparents, to partner with advocacy groups and local community groups, and to work with local schools through our educational Statistics in Schools program.
  • We’re also including messaging on the importance of including children in our general advertising and partnership support materials.
  • We are improving our enumerator training materials to emphasize the importance of including children during interviews with nonresponding households.
  • We’re also adding language to the questionnaire to emphasize the importance of including children living in the household in the census, including specific instructions to include foster children and grandchildren.


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