U.S. Census limited to online answers for now

In-person interviews delayed due to COVID-19

April 8, 2020 — One of the unexpected casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the 2020 Census. The census is conducted nationwide every 10 years and previously has been conducted on a door-to-door basis by individuals trained specifically for the task.

Unfortunately, restrictions put in place by state, county and local officials have hampered and, in many instances, completely curtailed the possibility of onsite interviews.

The Census Bureau has decided after assessing guidance from multiple sources to suspend field operations until April 15. The Census Bureau announced this step was taken to help protect the health and safety of the American public, Census Bureau employees and everyone who will go through the hiring process for temporary census taker positions.

One of the changes put in place for the 2020 Census has been a more comprehensive online presence which offers the public an additional — and under current circumstances the only —avenue for public response. This can be accessed at 2020census.gov. If people do not have the mailed postcard with further information, they can still complete the process.

The U.S. Census has been guided by authorizing legislation since 1790. Through the mid-19th century, this legislation was very detailed, listing questions to be asked and detailed instructions for census-takers. Although the U.S. Secretary of State was the nominal national head of the early censuses, almost all of the work for the count was done on the state and local level by federal marshals. The lack of national leadership meant that census acts had to be very specific; it was the only way the federal government could assure that the marshals would return standardized information.

 As census operations became more centralized and federalized in the latter part of the 19th century, legislation relating to the census became less detailed. Instead, it directed broad categories of questions to be asked and left the actual design of census questionnaires up to the superintendent of the census.

The modern U.S. Census Bureau has been shaped by two important pieces of legislation: the 1902 legislation that made the Census Office a permanent agency and the 1954 legislation that combined the existing laws governing the Census Bureau's statistical programs and codified them in Title 13. Title 13 is the section of U.S. Code that governs Census Bureau activities to this day.

Title 13 provides the following protections to individuals and businesses:

  • Private information is never published. It is against the law to disclose or publish any private information that identifies an individual or business such, including names, addresses (including GPS coordinates), Social Security Numbers and telephone numbers.
  • The Census Bureau collects information to produce statistics. Personal information cannot be used against respondents by any government agency or court.
  • Census Bureau employees are sworn to protect confidentiality. People sworn to uphold Title 13 are legally required to maintain the confidentiality of your data. Every person with access to your data is sworn for life to protect your information and understands that the penalties for violating this law are applicable for a lifetime.
  • Violating the law is a serious federal crime. Anyone who violates this law will face severe penalties, including a federal prison sentence of up to five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

The public can respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone or by mail, with a strong preference for online. People can respond online at 2020census.gov in the following languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese and Japanese. The Census Bureau also offers webpages and 2020 Census guides in 59 languages, including American Sign Language, in addition to guides in Braille and large print.

For more information, visit 2020census.gov.


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