Every ten years, the U.S. Government seeks to account for the total number of people living in the United States in a process called the Census. The Census is required by the Constitution, but the exact way it is conducted is specified in laws later passed through Congress. The U.S. Census Bureau, the government agency tasked with conducting the Census, must account for people living in all U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia and U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico. As of 2020, participation in the Census can be done either by mail, by phone or online.
Everyone living in the U.S. is required to participate in the Census. With that said, the Census Bureau will not use the data gathered beyond calculating populations. So, for example, a non-citizen whose green card expired will not be affected by responding truthfully to the survey.
On a home-by-home level, the Census does not ask that everyone answer individually but rather that a single submission be made accounting for everyone living at the home. This means that only one person, known as “Person 1” by the Census, actually needs to answer all the questions, provided said person has all the needed information for everyone living in the household. Naturally, children will not be expected to answer the Census as it is their caretakers who must account for them in the Census.
This leads to the final question of why, besides being required by law, a household should participate in the Census? Although it hasn’t done so since the 1970’s, the Census Bureau is able to fine persons that don’t participate, but the benefits of participation far outweigh the loss of the few minutes it takes to complete.
The Census plays a role in political redistricting and number of legislative seats allotted and is used in congressional budgeting. Government funds allocated for schools, infrastructure, healthcare and much more are allocated based on what the Census reports. Protections afforded to certain vulnerable populations, such as anti-discriminatory laws, are only effective if the Census shows where those populations are.
The census is critical and failing to participate in the Census can have more of an impact than failing to vote in an election. Elections are every two to four years – but the Census is once a decade and the impacts of those counts on school districts, roadways and even the location of hospitals are dependent on participation and accurate information. This year remember to make you mark and be a part of the Census.