What you Need to Know About the 2020 Census


We all have a general idea of the census as a comprehensive nationwide government-conducted survey that is conducted once every ten years. But the results of that survey are much more far-reaching than one would imagine. Although the 2020 Census may seem far off in time, it’s worth noting that preparations for it began in 2017, and the data that will be gathered will be analyzed well into 2023. As the Census Bureau begins opening Early Area Census Offices (ACOs) to oversee address canvassing, it’s worth taking a moment to learn exactly in what ways the census impacts our communities, and what we have to look forward to over the next few years.

The primary constitutional purpose for the decennial census is to determine how many congressional representatives each state will have for the next decade, and to ensure equal representation in the redistricting process. It directly impacts the distribution of $800 billion in federal investments across states, counties, and cities, and provides the most reliable and complete data for research, decision-making, and planning for both the public and private sectors. A few of the ways our communities rely on census data include infrastructure and transportation planning, the characterization of built structures for zoning and permitting processes, the location of retail outlets and logistics facilities, and forecasting business sales and growth projections.

In 1790, U.S. Marshals counted fewer than 4 million people through simple paper tallies. Today, the U.S. Census Bureau prepares to hire as many as 500,000 temporary workers to count more than 330 million people in 2020. Suffice it to say, the process has come a long way since its early days. More than ever, technology plays a central role, as the 2020 Census will be the first to offer options for internet and phone responses. Lead-up activities like aerial imaging software from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and other agencies will supplant a large portion of costlier in-field activities, such as in-person canvassing of every street and road to finalize address files. Enumerators, who will go door-to-door to non-responding households, will be equipped with smart devices and visits will be conducted digitally instead of with pen and paper. This will transmit collected data in real time directly to the Census Bureau, which houses some of the most secure servers within the federal government.

Responders’ personally identifiable information (PII) is protected by law and will not be shared outside of the Census Bureau. It will only be used to produce statistical information, and no other government agency or court will see or use it. In addition, the complete census questionnaire will be available in 12 languages other than English, and language guides and glossaries will be available in 50 non-English languages, plus Braille.

2020 Census Operations Timeline

  • Spring 2019: Bureau begins recruiting in-field address canvassers.

  • April 2019-January 2020: Bureau works with local governments to include addresses of new housing stock expected to be closed to the elements by Census Day.

  • June-August 2019: Remaining ACOs open.

  • August-October 2019: Bureau conducts local in-field canvassing, covering about 30% of addresses, primarily in high-growth and less-stable areas.

  • November 2019: Bureau begins the process of hiring 500,000 enumerators and other field staff for peak census operations. Census communications campaign begins.

  • March 2020: Peak operations in cities begin, self-response starts.

  • February-April 2020: Census staff contact (February) and then enumerate (April) group facilities, such as college dorms, skilled nursing homes, and prisons. An effort is made to enumerate persons in Targeted Non-sheltered Outdoor Locations (TNSOLs). Starting in late 2019, Census Bureau staff will work with local officials to identify these locations.

  • May 2020-July 2020: Nonresponse Follow-Up (NRFU). Bureau conducts in-person visits (“door-to-door knocking”), and uses administrative records and other methods to fill in gaps from households that don’t self-respond.

  • November 2020: Bureau completes processing of census data.

  • December 2020: Bureau reports state population totals and resulting congressional appointment to the President by December 31.

  • February-March 2021: States receive detailed population counts, by voting age, race, and ethnicity, for redistricting purposes.

  • Spring 2021: Bureau begins releasing detailed population and characteristics data for all government units, including cities, on a flow basis.

  • June 2021-June 2023: Bureau will provide an opportunity for local governments to challenge the accuracy of their final 2020 Census counts. Revised census counts are not used for congressional reapportionment or redistricting.

    For more information, contact one of the Census Bureau’s Northeastern regional offices:


New York Regional Office

32 Old Slip, 9th Floor

New York, NY 10005

212-584-4300 or 1-800-991-2520

FAX: 212-584-3402

TDD: 212-478-4793

Email: New.York.Regional.Office@census.gov

Philadelphia Regional Office

100 South Independence Mall West, Suite 410

Philadelphia, PA 19106-2320

215-717-1800 or 1-800-262-4236

FAX: 215-717-0755

TDD: 215-717-0894

Email: Philadelphia.Regional.Office@census.gov

Steven Cohen