1. What is the U.S. Census?
Every 10 years, the United States conducts a “decennial Census,” as mandated by Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. The goal of the Census is to count every person who lives in the country. This includes people of all ages and citizenship statuses, and it is required by law that you respond. Since 1970, nobody has been fined for failing to participate in the Census.
2. How does the Census work?
In past years, the U.S. Census Bureau would mail every household a paper form, and everyone who lives in the home must fill out this form with their information. You then mail the form back. If you do not fill out and submit the Census form, then people called “enumerators” visit your home and directly ask for the information.
In March 2020, every household will receive a letter invitation in the mail or from a Census worker to respond online to the questionnaire. You will be able to fill out your information either on a paper questionnaire you receive in the mail, or via an online version of the questionnaire.
3. What will the Census data be used for?
The federal government uses U.S. Census data to help decide where money should go. Over $600 billion per year is distributed to communities across the U.S. based on Census data. This funding includes money on roads, health care, safety net programs, schools, and more. The more accurate the Census count is in our community, the more likely our community will receive the resources that we need.
Census data is also an important part of the process that decides how many seats a state has in the House of Representatives. If the population of a state raises dramatically, the state could receive more representation in the House as a result. For example, based on 2010 Census data, Washington State’s population grew 14.1% from 2000. With that growth, Washington earned an additional 10th seat in Congress. Census data also can lead to “redistricting” or the process of dividing up a state into districts based on how many seats the state has both in the state legislature and in Congress. Redistricting based on Census updates can lead to more equitable representation for historically marginalized communities.
Because the Census happens only once every 10 years, the consequences of having inaccurate data are not just statistical. People’s lives could be significantly impacted for an entire decade.
4. Why is the Census important for Seattle and for Washington State?
Although city and county governments will not be administering the Census questionnaires, the City of Seattle and King County both play critical roles in making sure all of our residents have what they need to participate in the Census.
The Census results will direct valuable resources towards our most vulnerable communities based on population numbers. For example, in 2017, Washington State received $14 billion in the top 16 federal programs over a 10-year period.
In 2017, the City of Seattle received $81,821,649 in direct and indirect federal grant revenue, of which $44,746,154 went to fund human services.
5. How will the U.S. Census Bureau protect the confidentiality of my data?
Title 13 of the U.S. Code is straightforward and has strong protections for the data that the Census collects. Title 13 states that the Census Bureau is prohibited from publishing private information. It is against the law for them to disclose or publish any private information that identifies an individual or business, including names, addresses, social security numbers, and telephone numbers.
Additionally, personal information collected by the Census cannot be used against anyone by any government agency or court. The Census Bureau publishes only aggregated statistics that do not reveal specific information about individuals, households, or businesses.
All staff working with confidential information at the Census Bureau take a lifetime oath to protect the privacy and confidentiality of respondent information. Unlawful disclosure is a federal crime punishable by a $250,000 fine, or five years in prison, or both.
6. What is this I keep hearing about the “citizenship question?”
A question asking if you are a U.S. citizen will NOT be in the Census 2020 forms. More details about the “citizenship question” controversy is below.
The Census Bureau’s own research found that asking questions directly inquiring about a respondent’s citizenship decreases Census participation among households with non-citizens. The Census Bureau itself has not asked households about U.S. citizenship status in close to 70 years.
Despite this, in March 2018, federal officials announced that they will add a question in the 2020 Census that will directly inquire about citizenship.
Since the announcement, the California Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, alleging the citizenship question violates the U.S. Constitution and federal laws. The City of Seattle and Washington State joined other municipalities and states in another lawsuit blocking President Donald Trump’s administration from demanding citizenship information in the 2020 U.S. Census. In total, seven lawsuits were filed over the Trump administration’s decision to add the question to the Census.
Earlier this year, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to stop its plans to include the controversial question.
Then in June 2019, news outlets and advocates released documents suggesting that the inclusion of the citizenship question in the 2020 Census appeared to be a coordinated campaign to suppress the Census participation of Latinx residents, immigrants, and communities of color.
Later that month, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a 5-4 ruling to uphold the injunction against the citizenship question on the 2020 Census forms. SCOTUS ruled that the Department of Commerce’s decision regarding the citizenship question did not match the evidence and rationale the department provided to the Court. Mayor Durkan City Attorney Holmes, and Councilmembers González and Mosqueda all issued statements. You can read the 92-page decision here, which includes the majority decision and the dissenting opinion.
Updated July 2, 2019.
7. When will the next U.S. Census happen?
Below is a summarized timeline of Census 2020 actions for next year.
March 12–20, 2020
Households will receive a mailing with either: 1) Letter with info to take survey online or, 2) Letter with the paper survey.
March 16–24, 2020
Households with non-respondents will receive a mailing with a reminder letter.
April 1, 2020
Census Day! If you have not already, please use this day to submit your Census questionnaire, either online or by postal mail.
March 26-April 3, 2020
Households with non-respondents will receive a postcard.
Census enumerators will visit households that did not complete a Census questionnaire and collect information at the door.
8. Who should participate in the 2020 Census?
The mission of the U.S. Census is to count every person living in the U.S. regardless of age, race, and citizenship status.
Though the Census Bureau has historically undercounted certain populations who face systemic and inequitable barriers to participation, such as:
- Language and cultural barriers
- Mistrust in government
- Privacy/cybersecurity concerns
- Lack of a stable home
- People with low incomes
- Nontraditional living arrangements
- Lack of reliable broadband or internet access
These communities are often referred to as: “Hard-to-Count (HTC)” populations. An HTC population is determined by the percentage of households that did not respond by mail to the 2010 Census. Local governments and community organizations know that it is important to accurately assess what kind of targeted outreach and funding will be required to achieve a full and accurate 2020 Census count.
To assess the HTC population in your county, use this tool, which will allow you to search for hard-to-count populations (for this purpose defined as a jurisdiction with a response rate of 74% or less).
9. How is my community responding to the Census?
Washington Census Alliance, a statewide coalition, has been meeting to discuss informing and preparing communities across Washington for the 2020 Census. They are a statewide coalition of organizations led by and who serve communities of color, in order to focus energy and resources on historically under-counted communities in their regions and throughout Washington state.
The City of Seattle and King County have been meeting since 2018 to discuss how both governments and their departments can cooperate with community organizations, members, and advocates to reach hard-to-count (HTC) populations and to inform them of what is at stake for the 2020 Census. To that end, King County has convened a King County Complete Count Committee, and Seattle has convened a Census Task Force. Both are working together to coordinate departments and staff to support community efforts.
10. Is there any funding for community organization to help inform and engage people for the 2020 Census?
The Regional Census Fund (RCF) is a collaboration between the City of Seattle, King County, and Seattle Foundation to provide $1 million in funding to help community organizations prepare for the 2020 Census. Applications for the RCF are now live, and all local 501(c)3 organizations conducting Census outreach are encouraged to apply. Funds will be available in summer 2019, and will be administered by Seattle Foundation.
Philanthropy Northwest, with seed funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has also launched the Washington Census Equity Fund, a statewide pooled fund of philanthropy partners, which will support 2020 Census outreach, education, and resources to ensure a robust and accurate Census count. The Washington Census Equity Fund and the Regional Census Fund are working together with a shared request for proposal and application portal at the Seattle Foundation website. The Washington Census Equity Fund will focus on efforts across Washington and the Regional Census Fund will focus on work in King County.
Got more questions?
Send your question to: Elsa.Batres-Boni@seattle.gov.