Op-Ed: Respond to the 2020 Census to Save Money, Save Lives, and Be Counted

Sudip Bhattacharjee of the UConn School of Business explains why filling out a US Census form is so important.

Filling out the 2020 Census is crucial for everything from congressional representation to funding for social programs. (Getty Images)

Would you be willing to help save billions of dollars for the United States if you knew that those funds could potentially be redirected to medical research, repairing highways, or paying for mental health services?

What if I told you that contributing to that effort would take about 10 minutes of your time and you could do it in your pajamas from your favorite chair? All you have to do is fill out the 2020 Census online right now: https://my2020census.gov/

The 2020 Census has begun. Everyone living in the United States will be counted, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 2). This is an extraordinary undertaking and has taken place every 10 years since 1790.

Why is that important, you may ask? Census data determine everything from the number of representatives each state has in Congress to how funds are spent locally on roads, schools, hospitals, and more. Businesses use these data to plan for stores, offices and manufacturing plants. Communities receive billions of dollars of funding for families, older adults, and children from the federal government based on the census results. Funding is allocated to more than 100 programs including Medicaid, Head Start, block grants for community mental health services, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.

Counting more than 300 million people, their gender, race, and age is a staggering feat. In the past, printed forms were sent to each household that were filled out and returned. In 2020, the census has moved online. You can simply go to https://my2020census.gov and fill out your household information in less than 10 minutes using a computer or mobile phone.

Although it is mandatory for everyone to respond to the census, historically not everyone sends information back on time. In 2000, more than 42 million households failed to meet the deadline; in 2010, that number ballooned to more than 47 million. In anticipation for 2020, the federal government has hired some 500,000 census takers to make sure the data are collected.

Since the U.S. Constitution requires the government to do an actual enumeration, this is where those 500,000 census takers come in. They follow up with nonresponders by phone and by knocking on doors. Officially, it is called NRFU (nonresponse followup), and it cost the U.S. taxpayers over $1.3 billion in 2000 and over $1.6 billion in 2010. If you, your family and friends respond to the 2020 Census online right away, this cost could be drastically reduced. The money saved can be allocated in other areas such as medical research and public health.

And there is another bump in the road!

“Based on continuing assessments of guidance from federal, state and local health authorities, the U.S. Census Bureau is suspending 2020 Census field operations for two additional weeks to April 15, 2020. The Census Bureau is taking this step 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.”[1]

We can help maintain social distance for the census takers during this time and potentially save lives. Let’s do our part.

So, what are you waiting for? Get counted here: https://my2020census.gov

Share it on social media: https://2020census.gov/en/how-to-help.html.

Check the response rates in your area. Urge your family and friends to respond: https://2020census.gov/en/response-rates.html.

Here is some helpful advice:

  • You should have already received a 12-digit Census ID in the mail. Use that to fill out the census online. If you haven’t received it, or can’t find it, simply enter your address and fill it out. The de-duplication will be taken care of at the backend.
  • College students: If you usually live in university housing (residence hall or university-owned fraternity/sorority houses), the university will send in your information. But if you typically live off-campus and your usual location on April 1, 2020, would be that off-campus location (if COVID-19 had not happened), you should fill out the census with your off-campus location. For more information, watch this short video.
  • You can also fill out the census on a paper form or by calling 1-844-468-2020. But both these methods require census workers in facilities that are currently operating under severe public health restrictions.
  • “The U.S. Census Bureau is monitoring coronavirus (COVID-19) carefully, and the health, safety and well-being of the public and our staff is our top priority.”[2]
  • Look at the 2020 Census partners and supporters: https://2020census.gov/en/partners/directory.html.
  • All other information on who and where to count is at: https://2020census.gov/en/who-to-count.html.
  • Your data are private and confidential. Legally, the Census Bureau has strict requirements on data protection and privacy. Learn about it here: https://2020census.gov/en/data-protection.html.

Thank you for taking the time to help your nation and your community by making sure you and your family are counted!


OPIM Professor Sudip Bhattacharjee is a senior research fellow for data analytics at the U.S. Census Bureau. 


[1] < http://www.2020census.gov/en/news-events/press-kits/covid-19.html>.

[2] <www.2020census.gov/en/news-events/press-kits/covid-19.html>.