Starting this month, the U.S. government will begin its largest effort outside of wartime. It will count every single person in America.
The count will include all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and five U.S. territories. That should add up to about 330 million people.
This count is called a census. The U.S. Census Bureau does the count every 10 years. It is so important that it is part of the U.S. Constitution.
The census doesn't just count official citizens. It doesn't just count voters. It doesn't just count adults. It counts each person.
That means the 2020 census needs everyone to take part.
The official Census Day is April 1. A lot of work is done before then to make sure the count goes smoothly. By April 1, each household will receive a census form in the mail.
For the first time, people can now respond online. You can also answer the questions by phone or by mail. If you do not respond, a person working for the Census Bureau will follow up. They will ask you the questions in person.
The questions are very simple. They ask:
Your answers will be added to answers from other homes. Those facts and figures will help the government understand the people and the economies of U.S. towns, cities, and states.
They also help decide how many seats each state gets in Congress. But they also help you and your family in other ways.
The government also uses census data to help decide how to spend about $675 billion. Here are some of the ways that money is spent:
Roads, highways, and bridges: Is your town or city growing? Census data help decide funding for things like wider roads, new bridges, and carpool lanes.
Schools: Census information can help predict the need for more or fewer schools in certain areas. It also can help school districts plan for special services. Those might include low-cost meals, after-school programs, or new computers.
Emergency services: Population data help towns and cities get funds for new hospitals and fire departments. Data can also help them prepare for natural disasters.
Social services: Data on age groups help make sure people have the services they need. Having lots of children in an area might result in more playgrounds and parks. Having lots of older people might attract more health care providers and senior centers.
Businesses also use census data. They use the data to decide where to open new stores. The information helps them choose which products and services to offer. They use it to decide how many workers they might need.
SOURCES: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, U.S. CENSUS BUREAU
Here are some terms you may see in ads, online, or on your census form:
apportionment – n. the act of determining the number of House of Representative members for each state based on population
confidential – adj. spoken or written in private or in secret. All census answers are confidential and are not shared with any other U.S. agency.
decennial – adj. happening every 10 years
enumerate – v. to count people one at a time
household – n. all of the people living in a house or apartment. They do not have to be related to each other.
mandatory – adj. required by law. Taking part in the census is mandatory.
occupancy – n. the act of living in a home
population – n. the total number of people in a certain area
redistricting – v. making new voting or other types of districts in a city or state. The final census count often means redrawing districts.
statistical – adj. based on numbers or statistics