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A man going door to door collecting information for the 2020 census.

The United States Census Bureau administers the Census every ten years. However, one of the biggest challenges is making sure that all people are counted. For several reasons, some people are more difficult to count than others. These reasons may include an unstable home, no access to the Internet, and a distrust in the government.

Who Gets Counted?

The Census is mandated by law under Article I of the U.S. Constitution. The Census Bureau counts all individuals living in the United States as well as in Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U. S. Virgin Islands. The Census count includes American citizens, illegal immigrants, non-citizen residents, and long-term visitors.

Why the Census Matters

The Census matters because it determines state representation in Congress and how federal funds are appropriated for communities. Additionally, information from the Census can identify trends across the nation. For example, the Census records people’s living arrangements, including blended families or multigenerational households that is vital to organizations like the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Hard to Count Populations

Be Counted! Alabama 2020 CensusFor the 2020 Census, the Bureau recognized the need to go digital to cut costs. For the first time, respondents can complete the Census by computer, tablet, or smartphone. While this is convenient for many, completing the Census online poses challenges for some populations, such as those who are illiterate or do not have Internet access.

The Census Bureau makes every attempt to count everyone, yet some people go uncounted, such as those who move frequently, the homeless, and people living in highly secured communities. For the first time, older adults are also included in the hard to count category because of digital technology. A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center indicated that while baby boomers (ages 55 to 73) increased digital usage within the last decade, less than half of adults ages 74 to 91 still do not have broadband access at home. 

Other hard to count populations include

  • young children
  • racial and ethnic minorities
  • non-English speakers
  • low-income persons
  • undocumented immigrants
  • persons who distrust the government
  • members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer or questioning) community

Fortunately, the Census Bureau uses multi-faceted approaches to reach hard to count populations from completing the questionnaire online to in-person visits by census takers. The organization even has a process in place to count people living in group settings.

Census Timeline

April 1 was Census Day, but people can still complete the Census online, by mail, or by phone until October 31. Census takers will interview people who have not completed the questionnaire starting August 11 through October 31. In addition, from July 1 to September 3, Census takers will work with college administrators, senior centers, prisons, and other facilities where a large group of people reside to make sure people are counted. Then in December, as mandated by law, the Bureau will deliver the population count to the President of the United States and to Congress.

How Can You Help?

  • Complete the Census online at my2020census.gov, by mail, or by phone at 844-330-2020.
    • A list of the questions asked is available online.
  • Encourage others to complete the Census, especially those listed among the hard to count.
    • Note that the Census is available in Spanish as well as other languages.
  • Become a Census worker.
  • Promote the Census on your social media sites.
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