By on 3.11.20 in Carolina Demographics, Census 2020

Last year, I wrote that the census “is kind of like the Super Bowl for demographers, if the Super Bowl only took place once a decade.”

Over the past few months, Carolina Demography has been ramping up for the 2020 Census. We worked with the NC Counts Coalition to release a hard-to-count map for North Carolina. In addition, we’ve spoken at events across the state about the importance of the Census, how an undercount could affect North Carolina, and which groups are likely to be undercounted. We even participated in a Reddit AMA, fielding over 100 questions from people who wanted to learn more about the Census.

We’ve rounded up some of the questions we’ve received – from 8th graders in Hillsborough, NC; from events in Charlotte and Cumberland County and Chapel Hill; and from our Q&A’s online – and created a massive FAQ for you.

If you have additional Census-related questions, let us know and we’ll add to this document over the coming weeks.

A Census timeline

When is the first day that people can complete the Census?

The Census questionnaire will go out to people in waves. March 12 is the roughly anticipated first date people will receive their invitation to participate, though not all households will receive an invitation to respond on that date. Most households should receive their questionnaire by March 20.

Does a person have to wait until they receive the mailing to complete the Census?

Most homes can respond as early as March 12. Households must include everyone who will be living in their home as of April 1. However, if you don’t receive your invitation, you can still participate following the instructions for how to respond to the Census without an ID.

Is it true or false that you can be fined for not filling out your Census form?

True, but this has never been enforced.

What if I say 6 people live in my house but only 4 do?

It’s illegal to lie on a Census form.

How certain groups are counted

Related: Read our guide to counting college students

Do you have to be a citizen to be counted in the Census?

No. The Census is an enumeration of all persons, both citizen and non-citizen.

How do Latinos who do not identify as white or black respond to the race/ethnicity question?

There are two separate questions regarding race and ethnicity on the Census that will be asked of all individuals, with the following guidance: “For this census, Hispanic origins are not races”

  • Hispanic Origin: Is [this person] of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?Answer categories include:
    1. No, not of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin
    2. Yes, Mexican, Mexican Am., Chicano
    3. Yes, Puerto Rican
    4. Yes, Cuban
    5. Yes, another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin (write in)

If someone identifies as Latino, they should answer “Yes” to this question and then identify their specific origin.

  • Race: What is [this person’s] race? (Mark one or more boxes)Answer categories include:
    1. White
    2. Black or African-American
    3. American Indian or Alaska Native
    4. Asian or Pacific Islander, with the following groups specified: Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, Asian Indian, Japanese, Native Hawaiian, Samoan, and Chamorro, plus write ins for “Other Asian” and “Other Pacific Islander.
    5. Some other race (write in)

If individuals do not identify as a specific listed race, they can write in their identification in the “Some other race” category.

Will immigrant children who have been separated from their parents and are currently in detention centers be counted?

Individuals in facilities where they live and sleep in the facility—such as detention centers—are counted at the facility on Census Day.

Do visitors in the country on April 1, 2020 count in the census?

No. According to the Federal Register notice, section C.3.c. – “Citizens of foreign countries visiting the United States, such as on a vacation or business trip” are “not counted in the census.”

I live 50% of the time with my dad and 50% with my mom, where should I be counted?

Individuals who split their time equally between places should be counted where they are on April 1, 2020, according to the Federal Register notice on Census residency rules, section C.5.b – “People who live or stay at two or more residences (during the week, month, or year), such as people who travel seasonally between residences (for example, snowbirds)” are “counted at the residence where they live and sleep most of the time. If they cannot determine a place where they live most of the time, they are counted where they are staying on Census Day [April 1, 2020].”

How are homeless people counted?

Homeless population is counted through a special enumeration procedure, which the Census Bureau outlines here.

How are old people counted in old people homes?

​Individuals living in nursing homes are counted at the nursing home. The counting process is a little different because nursing homes are group quarters (places where many unrelated people live together). Group quarters enumeration is a special process that has its own timeline and rules. In many places, group quarters residents will not complete the census themselves: their information may be filled out by the group quarters administrator.

Is anyone counted against their will?

Potentially. The U.S. Census Bureau has a responsibility to count all individuals living in the United States on Census Day. When individuals do not reply to the census but the Census Bureau believes their housing unit is occupied, they may use proxy respondents (e.g., neighbors) or a statistical technique called “imputation” to count the housing unit residents.

Enumeration and Census Workers

If someone has a really big scary dog, will a census worker go to that house?

Census workers try to go to every home. In 2010, there were at least 379 incidents involving 600,000 Census workers. Some of these were minor. A Washington Post reporter on NPR said, “A woman got between a angry duck and a toddler. And the duck nibbled at her feet. She had sandals on. So she had to go have a tetanus shot. She was bitten about 15 times. But some of them were very serious. There was a census taker in Wisconsin, a woman who was grabbed by a man whose door she knocked on and he tried to pull her in.”

It’s been a while since I have opened the door for a random stranger. How would I even know what a census worker even looks like? Is there some sort of ID?

Census workers do not come knocking on your doors until after all households have been given an opportunity to self-respond—either online or by mail. If you complete the Census form before the end of April, you will probably never see anyone at your door.

During non-response follow-up operations—aka NRFU (nerf-uh)—Census Bureau representatives will be knocking on doors to collect information. Here’s how you can identify them, according to the Bureau.

The importance of and concerns about the Census

Why should 8th graders care about the Census?

The Census impacts federal funds that communities receive for schools and school programs, in addition to lots of other programs in your community. Data is also used to decide where to build new schools and supermarkets and other businesses.

Why are people hard to persuade?

People can be hard to persuade for a number of reasons. The Census publishes material on enumeration strategies for reaching different populations of people.

​I am concerned about the census data being weaponized politically for use against vulnerable and marginalized groups of people, and I think realistically a lot of other people are as well. A lot of people are going to feel like filling out a census form is putting their head on a chopping block. How realistic are those fears?

Under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about individuals, households, or businesses, even to law enforcement agencies.

The law states that the information collected may only be used for statistical purposes and no other purpose.

What groups are most likely to be undercounted and why?

Hard-to-count communities include children under age 6, renters, and American Indian, Hispanic, and Black households. There are four main reasons why a population might be hard to count:

  • They might be hard to locate, like people who live off-the-grid or who don’t wish to be found.
  • They might be hard to contact, like people who live in gated communities.
  • They might be hard to interview, meaning they might have low literacy or struggle with English.
  • They might be hard to persuade, meaning they are suspicious of the government or don’t see a benefit to participating in the Census.