(Caitlin Hernandez/LAist via OpenPeeps)
It’s April 1. Happy Census Day!
When you fill out your census form, this is the day the government wants you to document. You should include information about where you live as of today.
At this point, you should have received your census form in the mail. But, based on early reporting, most of us haven’t gotten around to actually filling it out. (What could possibly be distracting?)
If you find yourself quarantined with some downtime to start checking boxes — we’ve got you covered. We’ve created an annotated replica of the 2020 Census form which describes how the data collected from you is used to is used to inform government decision-making and determine community needs.
AND WHY DO WE DO THIS?
The Constitution mandates it. And we’ve been doing it every 10 years since 1790. An accurate population count is vital to how congressional lines are drawn, how federal funds get distributed, and even how journalists, the government and researchers know the demographics of communities they study and report on.
Before you answer Question 1, count the people living in this house, apartment, or mobile home using our guidelines.
The census must also include people without a permanent place to live, so:
Editor’s note: The census is a headcount of everyone living in the country, and must include people who are housed and those without a permanent place to live. For the unhoused, census enumerators work with local groups to identify outdoor and other locations where people are known to sleep. They’ll also attempt to find people in social service locations like shelters, soup kitchens and mobile food vans.
People who are staying temporarily with friends or family as of April 1 should be included in that household’s count if it is their primary residence, however temporary.
The Census Bureau also conducts counts in institutions and other places, so:
The Census Bureau will also contact people that run group facilities, such as college/university student housing, residential treatment centers, military barracks, nursing homes, group homes and correctional facilities ahead of Census Day to get an accurate count of occupants.
Coordinated efforts to count these particularly hard to reach groups, including the homeless, were slated to begin at the end of March, but have now been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the Census Bureau has yet to say when or how these group counts will relaunch.
1. How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2020?
An accurate count of how many people (regardless of citizenship status) live in the U.S. helps determine how federal funding is distributed to programs like Head Start and SNAP. It’s also the basis for how congressional districts are drawn — and redrawn.
The goal of the 2020 Census is to count everyone. This question double checks that no one is unaccounted for, including babies and young children, one of the most historically undercounted groups. So if your baby is born April 1, count them! If you’re still pregnant, don’t. And if you’ve got a friend crashing on the couch temporarily, or if someone is living in an unconventional space, like a converted garage or a "granny flat" in the backyard, count them!
3. Is this house, apartment, or mobile home ______?
Asking about the type of housing people live in helps collect information about renting and rates of homeownership. This data is also useful for gauging residential segregation and housing discrimination. Housing and homeownership programs run by the federal government and nonprofits also use census-derived data to determine community needs.
4. What is your telephone number?
We will only contact you if needed for official Census Bureau business.
This information is only used if a portion of the questionnaire is filled out improperly. It’s kept separately from the questionnaire so that your answers are not identifiable by your personal data. It’s confidential and protected under Title 13 of federal law.
5. Please provide information for each person living here. If there is someone living here who pays the rent or owns this residence, start by listing him or her as Person 1. If the owner or the person who pays the rent does not live here, start by listing any adult living here as Person 1.
What is Person 1’s name?
Like your phone number, your name is only used for administrative purposes, is confidential and federally protected under law by Title 13.
FACT: Before 1850, the census primarily focused on household counts. Only the head of household was listed by name.
6. What is Person 1’s sex? Mark ONE box.
Editor’s note: Sixteen states (including California) and D.C. offer a non-binary option on driver’s licenses and state IDs. While there was brief discussion in 2017 to update the gender options on the 2020 Census to include a third option, the proposal was quickly removed from consideration.
Data about those identifying as male and female is used for planning, and funding gender-specific government programs like Women, Infants and Children (WIC). When combined with employment data, for example, this sex count also helps the government measure employment and income disparities, and enforce and create anti-discrimination laws.
7. What is Person 1’s age and what is Person 1’s date of birth? For babies less than 1 year old, do not write the age in months. Write 0 as the age.
Age data is used to fund government programs for specific age groups, like supportive housing for the elderly, Head Start for children under five and job training or employment assistance for working-age adults. This information also helps enforce laws and policies in place to protect vulnerable age groups like, seniors and children, from discrimination and abuse.
FACT: The 1790 census only counted the age of white males 16 years and older to assess the country's industrial and military potential.
8. Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?
We may have lived our whole lives thinking that “Hispanic” is a race. But nope — the Census Bureau considers it an ethnicity. Why? Because people of the same ethnicity can be of many different races, such as indigenous Mayans from Guatemala or Afro-Dominicans. Since people of “Hispanic” origin can identify with different races, this question helps the government gather data on this sizable and diverse “ethnicity.” Detailed information on race and ethnicity then helps federal agencies monitor compliance with anti-discrimination laws like the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act.
FACT: We can thank President Richard Nixon for the term “Hispanic” first appearing on the census. After a massive undercount in the 1970 Census, advocates called for a census category that would recognize people of Latin American descent as a sizable ethnic group within the U.S. Nixon listened, and the next census, in 1980, asked all respondents if they were of Hispanic origin.
9. What is Person 1’s race? Mark one or more boxes AND print origins.
Notions of racial identity have changed since 1790, and census checkboxes have changed with them. This is the first year that people checking “White” are asked to specify ethnic origins. Meanwhile, people instructed by the census form to identify as white, like those of Lebanese or Egyptian origin, might not identify as such! Like the gender box, Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) advocates almost got the Census Bureau to add a MENA option, but the Trump Administration ultimately nixed it. So if you don’t like the box the government gives you to check, you can always check the "Some Other Race" box and write in whatever term feels right.
FACT: An “Indian” category was added in 1860, but enumerators counted only those Native Americans who were considered assimilated (e.g. those who settled in or near white communities). The census didn’t attempt to count the entire Native American population until the 1890 Census, when Native Americans living on tribal lands were also included.
1. Print name of Person 2
This question helps track if someone’s been counted more than once — say if both a university and parents count the same student.
2. Does this person usually live or stay somewhere else? Mark all that apply.
3. How is this person related to Person 1? Mark ONE box.
Funding for family programs is informed by data about the relationships between people living in the same household, and the makeup of these family units — for example, the number of female-headed households. It also helps researchers understand how living situations in a community may be changing (e.g. more people with roommates, fewer marriages, etc.).
FACT: The 2020 Census has the first reference to same-sex relationships. In previous censuses — even the 2010 Census which occurred after the federal legalization of same-sex marriage — same-sex partnerships were either enumerated under "Unmarried Partner" or "Husband or Wife."
The form continues on with more questions like Question 2 for other people living in the household. This information helps give a detailed picture of the makeup of households and families.