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The Community Foundation Blog

Census 2020: Why It Matters
By The Community Foundation / October 24, 2019
Census 2020: Why It Matters

What is the 2020 Census, and why does it matter?

Once a decade, the U.S. Census Bureau launches a sweeping effort to count everyone in America’s diverse and growing population once, only once and in the right place. This data is the basis for reapportioning Congressional seats, redistricting electoral boundaries, and distributing $675 billion in federal funding to support state and local community programs.

“We break the data down into statistics, and we use this to create a big picture so we can see who all we have in the United States,” said Justin Beck, Partnerships Specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau. “This is very important because we all need facts and data to agree upon so we can move forward with important decisions over the next 10 years.”

Speakers at the Community Foundation's Census 2020 event share their insights into the importance of the upcoming census.


Census data impacts:

  • Where health clinics are built
  • How crowded classrooms will be
  • Where we build new businesses, roads and libraries
  • State funding for WIC and SNAP
  • How we design public safety strategies
  • How many representatives Virginia will have in Congress

It is estimated that Virginia will lose up to $2,000 annually for each person not counted in the 2020 Census – amounting upwards of $20,000 per person over a 10-year period.

What’s the timeline for the 2020 Census?

Most households will receive a mailing in March 2020 with options for self-response, such as requesting a form in the mail, or – for the first time in American history – completing the census online or calling the Census Bureau to complete the form via phone.

Graphic courtesy of Voices for Virginia's Children

Who is Hard-to-Count?

Even though it is federally mandated that each household fill out the form, certain populations are often missed for various reasons, such as being difficult to locate, being uneasy about disclosing personal information or speaking limited English. The U.S. Census Bureau considers the following groups – many of whom are served or engaged by nonprofits – at risk of being undercounted:

  • Complex households including those with blended families, multi-generations, or non-relatives
  • Cultural and linguistic minorities
  • Displaced persons affected by a disaster
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning persons
  • Low-income persons
  • Persons experiencing homelessness
  • Persons less likely to use the Internet and others without Internet access
  • Persons residing in rural or geographically isolated areas
  • Persons who do not live in traditional housing
  • Persons who do not speak English fluently (or have limited English proficiency)
  • Persons who have distrust in the government
  • Persons with mental and/or physical disabilities
  • Persons without a high school diploma
  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • Renters
  • Undocumented immigrants (or recent immigrants)
  • Young children
  • Young, mobile persons

How is the U.S. Census Bureau trying to reach more people?

In addition to embracing modern technology to reach more people in a user-friendly way, the Census Bureau is working to dispel misconceptions about the census that might keep people from responding.

“One of the main issues we’re dealing with is distrust. People are concerned that the information they give will not be confidential, and they’re also concerned that the information that they give us can be used in some way against them,” Beck said. “But it’s written in federal law, and we have several test cases to show that census information cannot be used against any individual in the United States.”

Specifically, the Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to keep all census responses confidential for 72 years. Anyone found in violation of this code is subject to a $250,000 fine, or five years in prison, or both.

Additionally, the 2020 Census will not include any question about citizenship. 

What can I do to help?

You can play a crucial role in making sure your community is accurately represented in the 2020 Census.

“It’s not our job to make people fill out the census, but it’s our job to empower them with the resources they need to make the decision on their own,” said Lauren Snellings, Research Director for Voices for Virginia’s Children.

Additional Resources:

2020 Census Update Resource Guide from the ConnectVA Learning Center (you will need a ConnectVA account to view this free guide)

Virginia’s Hard to Count Communities One-Pagers

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