How to check for participation in the U.S. Census 2020

By Olivia Montes

Lifestyle Editor

For the past seven months, while the COVID-19 pandemic has become the focus on many Americans’ minds, the 2020 United States census has been, and continues to be, underway. 

The census collects data regarding changes in the U.S. population every 10 years to determine the number of seats each state gets in the House of Representatives and how to distribute federal government funding.

The 2020 census started in early March — and was slated to be separate from its predecessors in terms of widespread distribution, being the first conducted digitally.  

“The 2020 census is the first in the U.S. since the rise of social media and the first U.S. count that’s primarily online,” National Public Radio’s Hansi Lo Wang said on April 1st. “For months, the government has been preparing to combat disinformation campaigns that may try to disrupt the count, which is rolling out not only in the middle of a presidential race but also during the coronavirus pandemic.” 

In response to this sudden mass quarantine, the federal government slashed the traditional door-to-door method of distributing both invitations in March and questionnaires by April 1 — also known as Census Day.

Instead, they transferred all mailing and housing lists, as well as the amount of responses or lack thereof, online — for over an estimated 330 million Americans living in over 140 million households. 

“When the Census Bureau can’t reach a household, it must often send field collectors to gather data by physically knocking on the door,” The New York Times’s Giovanni Russonello said. “The coronavirus inherently makes work harder for these collectors — known as enumerators — because many Americans may be wary of answering a house call in the middle of a pandemic, particularly in hard-hit areas.”

With these changes in mind, here are important points to remind yourself when checking if you filled out this decade’s census.

Check your mail for the invitation. 

While it has been months since the invitations were initially distributed, they provide an important step to the process. 

Each invitation contains a specific census ID number, which each household uses to access the online questionnaire. 

However, if that invitation is unable to be found, there are other options.

As Vox Recode’s Sara Morrison said, more queries concerning your address, allowing for officials to check the legitimacy of who is filling out the form and from which location. 

“If you don’t have a census ID because you either [didn’t] want to wait for it to come in the mail or it just never came at all, you can still fill out the online form,” Morrison said on Sept. 12. “Go to the website [https://my2020census.gov/] and navigate to the ‘if you do not have a Census ID, click here’ button on the login page.”

“You’ll have to answer a few additional questions about your address, but you should be able to complete the census after that,” she said.

Fill out the census online with accuracy. 

According to Morrison, while this might not be America’s first online census, it is the first one to be digital — and with that comes concerns from filling out the application strictly online. 

“Cybersecurity is a concern with this census,” Morrison said. “The government doesn’t have the best record when it comes to functional websites with adequate security from hackers. And there have been attacks on other countries’ censuses before.” 

However, don’t let this intimidate you; using safe online platforms, as well as sticking to the provided website to fill out the questionnaire, will allow for a safe experience.

The questionnaire, which asks for your name, address, and the identities of yourself and those in your household — but will not ask anything regarding your citizenship — may seem intrusive, but is vital for the final total count. 

With this in mind, make sure you are filling out the form correctly, noting any changes that have occurred in your housing unit from the previous decade.  

Make sure to fill out the census by December 2020 no exceptions.

While April 1 was not the absolute last-minute deadline for applications to be submitted, there is one set in stone.

By law, December is when each questionnaire, collected by each state, is then delivered to the President and U.S. Congress.

 These questionnaires estimate a total count of who, what, and where in preparation for March 2021, when the federal government redraws congressional districts based on the recorded population changes in those respective states.

While remapping may not pose an immediate threat on paper, it does have a lasting impact on which states and districts receive the most assistance in rebuilding for the next decade — especially in a time of political, economic, and social uncertainty and unrest.

“These kinds of debates are not entirely new — and this year’s fandango has a particular historical resonance with the census of exactly 100 years ago,” Russonello said. “In the end, the census was conducted with such great difficulty that its data was never fully adopted, and no congressional reapportionment happened until after the 1930 census.” 

Despite the application process having adapted to the changing times, particularly in both a digital age and during extensive pandemic, and the concerns appearing to have died down, there is still major work ahead to make sure not only that every person in every individual housing unit is counted, but that those states and communities receive the funding needed to bounce back in a post-pandemic nation. 

The 2020 U.S. Census is still going on — and will continue until December.

“Regardless, you can do your part to ensure this by filling out your own census form — online or otherwise — as soon as the invitation shows up in your mailbox,” Morrison said.

Featured Photo caption: While the benchmark might have passed, it’s not too late to complete the 2020 U.S. Census. Photo Courtesy of Joseph Chan.

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