Log on and be counted

2020 census will have an online option

Created date

December 16th, 2019

This month, U.S. census workers will set out by bush plane, dog sled, and snowmobile to count residents living in Toksook Bay, Alaska. Located in the Yukon Delta region on the Bering Sea, the remote village of Toksook Bay will be the first place to be counted for the 2020 Census.

The early start is necessary for remote areas of Alaska such as Toksook Bay. Come spring, when the national census effort gets underway, Alaska will be in the midst of the spring thaw—a time when many residents travel to other areas for warm weather work. Collecting census data when a significant portion of the population is out of town could lead to an incomplete or faulty count.

The last census, taken in 2010, recorded the Toksook Bay population at 591. Given the number of young families currently living there, town officials expect that number to increase in the 2020 census and likewise anticipate an increase in federal spending for the area.

“Census data guide how federal, state, and local funding for critical services such as schools, fire departments, and health care facilities is distributed,” says Census Bureau director Dr. Steven Dillingham. “Data literally shape the future of your community.” 


Article 1, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution mandates a population count every ten years. In addition to funding distribution, the count is used to draw congressional and state legislative districts. It also determines how many seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The Constitution is unique because it puts the power of government in the hands of the people—and the census is a big part of that,” says Dillingham. “The census is one of the few national activities the American public does together—it’s the largest peacetime mobilization in our country, and it’s a cornerstone of our democracy.”

The first census occurred in 1790 and enumerated the U.S. population at 3,929,214.

In 2010, that number had grown to 308,745,538. Aside from a 78-fold population increase, much has changed in the intervening 230 years.

Counting on technology

This year, census takers will visit homes just as they did in 1790, but for most people, responding to the 2020 census will be a thoroughly modern undertaking. For the first time, people can answer census questions online.

“In 2020, all households will have the option to respond to the census online, over the phone, and by mail,” says Albert E. Fontenot Jr., the associate director for Decennial Census Programs. “We have successfully completed numerous tests to validate our systems and operations to support these innovations, while ensuring that respondent data remain confidential, and we are ready to conduct the most technologically advanced and accurate decennial census in our nation’s history.”

The 2020 census will also use satellite and GPS imagery to identify areas where housing is changing and assign workers to verify those addresses in person. Previously, census workers walked every street in America to verify addresses on the ground.

Rolling out the 2020 census

Sometime in the middle of March, most Americans will receive a mailed invitation to participate in the 2020 census. The Census Bureau expects most people will choose to respond online, but everyone has the option of responding with a paper questionnaire or over the phone. 

Participating in the census is required by law. Those who fail to respond will receive a followup letter and postcard reminders through the end of April. After that, census takers will conduct home visits to nonrespondents.

The 2020 census will ask how many people live in your home and whether your home is owned or rented. There will also be questions about the age, race, and gender of the people living in your home.

There will be a question about whether anyone living in the home is of Hispanic, Latino, or of Spanish origin. The purpose of this question is to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination provisions, such as those in the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.

There will also be a question about the relationship of the people living in the home. This gives the Census Bureau information about the number of families and single-parent households and will help government agencies budget various funding programs.

It’s important to know that a census taker will never ask for any money, for your social security number, your bank account number or credit card accounts, or ask anything on behalf of a political party.

Your information is confidential and will be used for statistical purposes only.

Thousands of temporary jobs

To get the count done quickly and accurately, the census bureau has initiated a major recruiting effort to fill thousands of temporary jobs across the country. These temporary jobs offer flexible work hours, including daytime, evenings, and weekends.

For more information about census jobs, call 1-855-JOB-2020 or visit 2020census.gov/en/jobs.