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Census: Why Get Counted?

The critical importance of the U.S. Census

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  • The U.S. Census is an attempt by the federal government to count every person living in the country.

  • The Census is 7 basic questions for everyone living in the U.S. to answer and submit. [U.S. Census Bureau]

  • Response is required by law. [U.S. Census Bureau]

  • Article I, Section II of the U.S. Constitution mandates “actual Enumeration” to occur every 10 years to help determine representation in Congress. [U.S. Census Bureau]


Article I, Section II, Clause 3

"... The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct...."


[National Constitution Center

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SOCIAL: The information collected by the Census shapes public spending, research, and decision-making for the next 10 years. A lack of funding for essentials in and representation of a community could happen if an undercount or miscount occurs.


CIVICS: Responding is a civic duty. State representation in the House of Representatives is determined on population size gathered by the census. State officials also use the data collected to redistrict, and electoral votes are determined by the census data. [NPR]

The census also helps the government direct funding for public health programs, public education, and transportation networks. [NPR] 

Protests erupted across the country against police brutality to Black American communities and systemic racism as a whole. Protestors are calling to "Defund the Police." Data from the census is used to allocate funds to police departments. 


From the Founding Fathers

"Enshrining this invention [the census] in our Constitution marked a turning point in world history.


Previously censuses had been used mainly to tax or confiscate property or to conscript youth into military service.


The genius of the Founders was taking a tool of government and making it a tool of political empowerment for the governed over their government." [U.S Census Bureau]



In practice

Political empowerment is voting - specifically, voting and electing state representatives.


The Census determines how much representation (seats) each state has in the House of Representatives. [U.S. House of Representatives]


There are 435 seats in the House of Representatives. The seats are divided amongst the states based on the population of each state. The population count is gathered by the Census. 


State officials also use the Census data collected to redistrict. [National Conference of State Legislatures]



The House of Representation drafts and creates legislation that affects our daily life. If under-represented, legislation may not reflect nor address the needs of [U.S. House of Representation]




The Census data educates the government on where to direct federal funding (money). [NPR] 

  • The count "underpin[s] government programs" by distributing over $675 billion in federal funds across the states. [The Washington Post


Data from the Census informs how your community plans for the future. According to the Census Bureau, the data collected informs:

  • Public education, including school lunches, supplies, and where to build schools;
  • Health services, including Medicaid, food assistance programs for low-income, emergency supplies, and where to build hospitals;
  • Transportation, including highway construction;
  • Emergency services, including fire departments, and police stations;
  • Private companies use census data to understand where to build shopping centers and new housing developments;
  • Non-profits use it to help estimate potential volunteers, redirect or expand services, and to inform strategic planning.

If an undercount or miscount happens, your community may receive less money than it needs and may misplan community resources. [Bloomberg]


  • Mar. 18, 2020: Census workers, counting in person, have been temporarily stopped to the COVID-19 pandemic. [Associated Press]
  • Aug. 3, 2020: The Census Bureau announced it will end counting efforts on September 30, a month sooner than previously announced. [NPR]
  • Aug. 18, 2020: The Brennan Center for Justice has sued the Trump administration for halting census efforts too soon. [Brennan Center for Justice]
  • Sept. 8, 2020: A federal judge ruled the Trump administration cannot end census counting efforts early. [The New York Times]
  • Oct. 13, 2020: The Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration can end census counting on Oct. 15. [NPR]

Typical Census Timeline:

  • Apr. 1: Official Census Day.
  • Apr. 29th - May 1st: The Census Bureau counts people who are experiencing homelessness.
  • Apr. 16th - Jun. 19th: The Census Bureau works to count people in colleges, senior centers, prisons, and other facilities.
  • May 27 - Aug. 14: The Census workers interview those who have not responded.
  • December: The Census Bureau delivers apportionment counts to the president and Congress.


  • This year is the first year that you can respond online. Will there be issues with the new system?
  • Google and Facebook probably know more about you than the federal government. Will the census eventually become extinct?
  • Census efforts were stalled for a majority of  2019 based on an attempt to include a citizenship question. Learn more about the citizenship question debate here.
  • Redistricting efforts cause concern for gerrymandering. Learn more about the political, and often racial, practice here.
  • Some governors are pouring record amounts of their state budget to ensure the state is not undercounted. Others are not. [The New York Times] What does this say about the division of power in America? 
  • Read more about how Massachusetts was undercounted and how that affected 10 years of development from The Boston Globe.
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