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STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.3, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.7, WHST.6-8.2, WHST.6-8.4, WHST.6-8.9, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.7, RI.6-8.10, SL.6-8.1, SL.6-8.5, SL.6-8.6

NCSS: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions • Power, Authority, and Governance • Civic Ideals and Practices

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Why Everyone’s Talking About The Census

The government is preparing to take its once-a-decade count of every person in the United States. Here’s what you should know.

The United States is counting on Americans—to count themselves! April 1 marks the official start of the 2020 U.S. Census, a nationwide tally of every person living in the country. 

The federal government conducts a census every 10 years, something that’s required by the Constitution. As part of this national head count, U.S. residents answer a short questionnaire about themselves and their households. Their collective responses provide the government with important data about the country’s population. The results help determine everything from how to distribute tax dollars to where to build new schools and public parks. (By law, the U.S. Census Bureau uses data collected from the census for statistical purposes only. It keeps people’s individual responses private.) 

How is the census conducted? What kinds of questions are in it? And how will the information the government gathers affect your life? Here’s what you need to know.

The United States is counting on Americans—to count themselves! April 1 marks the official start of the 2020 U.S. Census. That is a nationwide tally of every person living in the country.

The federal government conducts a census every 10 years. That is required by the Constitution. As part of this national head count, U.S. residents answer a short questionnaire about themselves and their households. Their combined responses provide the government with important data about the country’s population. The results help determine everything from how to distribute tax dollars to where to build new schools and public parks. (By law, the U.S. Census Bureau uses data collected from the census for statistical purposes only. It keeps people’s individual responses private.)

How is the census conducted? What kinds of questions are in it? And how will the information the government gathers affect your life? Here is what you need to know.

1. Who gets counted in a census—and how?

The census aims to tally every person living in the country, including citizens, noncitizens who are here legally, and undocumented immigrants. Deployed military members, people in prison, and homeless people are also counted.

Earlier this year, the Census Bureau mailed a notice to every known household in the nation detailing how to participate. Most people are encouraged to respond to the questions by mail, by phone, or—new this year—via the internet. 

To ensure that every person is counted, the Bureau plans to hire about 500,000 workers to go door-to-door starting next month to collect answers from people who haven’t responded.

The census aims to count every person living in the country. That includes citizens, noncitizens who are here legally, and undocumented immigrants. Deployed military members, people in prison, and homeless people are also counted.

Earlier this year, the Census Bureau mailed a notice to every known household in the nation. The notice detailed how to participate. Most people are encouraged to respond to the questions by mail, by phone, or via the internet. The internet option is new this year.

To make sure that every person is counted, the Bureau plans to hire about 500,000 workers. They will go door-to-door starting next month. They will collect answers from people who have not responded.

Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg 7/Alamy Stock Photo

A census worker interviews a family in Florida during the 2010 Census.

2. What questions are included?

The census asks respondents about their age, sex, race, and more. Everyone in each household must answer the questions, or someone else—such as a parent or spouse—must answer for them.

Respondents will not be asked whether they are U.S. citizens. President Donald Trump’s administration tried to have that question added, but the Supreme Court blocked it, saying it could discourage participation among undocumented immigrants, who may fear deportation.

The census asks respondents about their age, sex, race, and more. Everyone in each household must answer the questions. Or someone else, such as a parent or spouse, must answer for them.

Respondents will not be asked whether they are U.S. citizens. President Donald Trump’s administration tried to have that question added. But the Supreme Court blocked it. The Court said the question could discourage participation among undocumented immigrants, who may fear deportation.

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3. Why does the census matter? 

Census data help the government determine how to distribute about $675 billion a year in federal funds. That money is used for everything from repairing highways to building schools. Businesses also use the data. For example, a clothing company might analyze census statistics to decide where to open new stores.

Census results also determine how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives. House seats are based on each state’s share of the nation’s population. Because the total number of House seats—435—doesn’t change, some states may gain or lose seats after each census. That, in turn, affects presidential elections, as each state is allotted votes in the Electoral College based on the number of seats it has in Congress. (The 2020 Census won’t affect November’s presidential election, because officials won’t begin releasing data until December.)

Census data help the government determine how to distribute about $675 billion a year in federal funds. That money is used for everything from repairing highways to building schools. Businesses also use the data. For example, a clothing company might analyze census statistics to decide where to open new stores.

Census results also determine how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives. House seats are based on each state’s share of the nation’s population. The total number of House seats is 435 and does not change, so some states may gain or lose seats after each census. That, in turn, affects presidential elections. That is because each state is allotted votes in the Electoral College based on the number of seats it has in Congress. (The 2020 Census will not affect November’s presidential election, because officials will not begin releasing data until December.)

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