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The 2020 Census: What You Need to Know

Why is the 2020 Census important?

  • The U.S. Constitution requires a national census every 10 years
  • Determines how Congressional and state legislative seats are apportioned
  • Determines how federal assistance is allocated throughout the country including Medicaid, Head Start, the National School Lunch Program, Foster Care, and many more
  • Determines how populations are defined for delivery of public service - e.g., emergency responders use it to define 911 emergency areas
  • Informs decisions by govenrments, nonprofits, and for-profit businesses on where to locate their operations, how to expand and allocate resources, and more 
  • Nonprofits need reliable census data to determine who and where the populations they serve are located, how populations are shifting, and how to distribute resources more efficiently
  • "The decennial census is the largest mobilization and operation conducted in the United States." - U.S. Census Bureau

How will Colorado be affected by the 2020 Census

Factors affecting the 2020 Census


The spending bill for Fiscal Year 2018 increased funding for the census by $1.34 billion, but this increase is substantially smaller than the increase at this point in previous Census cycles. Furthermore, it follows years of underfunding, which means that as of now, the Census Bureau probably lacks sufficient funds to conduct an accurate census in 2020.  According to the National Council for Nonprofits, the Census Bureau is currently planning to withhold $1 billion of the funds for FY 2018 for 2019 because of concerns it will be underfunded again. These funds ought to be used in FY 2018 to lay the groundwork for the 2020 Census.

Advocates are working to increase funding to support the census. A bipartisan group of 161 mayors from around the United States wrote a letter urging the Administration to adequately fund the census. In early June, the National Council for Nonprofits was joined by many state associations in Washington D.C. to lobby Congress about many issues, including the importance of supporting the census with sufficient funding. The Census Project, along with stakeholders, have drafted a document with a recommended funding amount for the census in FY 2019. Hopefully these efforts lead to significantly increased funding for the census in the next federal spending bill. 

Internet-Based Approach

The census is moving to a primarily online system. This approach will attempt to identify areas in which broadband connections are most available and secure and encourage people in those areas to fill out the census online. These "Internet First" areas will receive reminder cards in the mail, but will only receive a hard-copy of the census in the fourth wave of mail reminders. In areas where internet connection is less reliable or populations are less likely to have access to internet and/or internet-enabled devices, the first mail reminder will encourage people to fill out the online census and will include a hard-copy version of the census.

Despite these efforts to ensure that the Internet-based census does not create an unfair collection process, there are still concerns. One concern is that hard-to-reach populations will be at even more of a disadvantage with the online system. Another important concern is privacy. The online platform will be secure, but online data breaches of secure systems are increasingly common. The system will need additional safeguards to protect data, and those need to be tested. Unfortunately, the Census Bureau has already had to cancel two scheduled tests, which leaves less time to catch up.

Citizenship Question

The Secretary of Commerce, at the request of the Department of Justice, has requested that a mandatory question to ask respondents about their citizenship is added to the census. A mandatory citizenship question has not been part of the census since 1950, though an optional citizenship question was included until 2010. The results from the question are intended to  provide block-level information about the citizen and non-citizen demographics in the voting age population and help with the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. Currently, citizenship information is colllected in the American Community Survey, which is an annual  survey that samples 2.6% of the population. 

We are concerned that the citizenship question would discourage vulnerable groups, particularly both documented and undocumented immigrants, from participating. If this is the case, it could greatly affect the integrity of the census results which would skew reapportionment and funding, particularly in areas with high immigrant populations. The Census Bureau's research from 2017 has shown that questions surrounding immigration and citizenship increase concerns surrounding confidentiality and data sharing among people of racial and ethnic minorities. 

On June 27, the Supreme Court returned the matter of including a citizenship question on the 2020 Census form to lower courts for further review. Although the Department has some time to clarify its justification for including the question, the Census form must be final before the end of June 2019.

Citizenship question

Hard-to-Count Populations

The three aforementioned concerns are compounded in hard-to-reach populations. With less funding, an under-tested online system, and the possiblity of inclusion of a controversial citizenship question, historically hard-to-reach populations may become harder-to-reach populations in the 2020 census. Homeless populations, children, immigrants, and communities of color are at particular risk of being significantly undercounted. This would undermine federal funding to programs that serve the most vulnerable populations in our nation and state.

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