2020 Census FAQs

  1. Why is the census important?
  2. When can I participate in the census?
  3. How can I participate in the census?
  4. What questions will be on the Census?
  5. Will personally identifiable census information be shared with any other governmental agencies, corporations, or people?
  6. How will the census handle responses from people whose primary language is not english?

Why is the census important?

  • Representation. Boundaries are drawn for aldermanic districts, county board districts, state assembly and state senate districts, and U.S. House of Representative districts based on the census population count, not the number of people who are eligible to vote.  Any areas with an undercount will be under-represented for the next 10 years. 
  • Funding.  Over $675,000,000,000 of federal funding is distributed each year based, in whole or in part, on census information – over $2,000 per counted person.  The census count impacts funding for a wide range of programs for affordable housing, transportation, education, child care, health care, and other important aspects of a safe and healthy community.  It is crucial that everyone be counted so our community can receive our fair share of federal funding.
  •  Planning. The City and many other governmental entities, businesses, and nonprofits use census data for planning, decision-making and investment.  Data that accurately represents the community can lead to better outcomes for neighborhoods and communities within the city. 


When can I participate in the census?

  • People living in single-family homes, duplexes, apartments, and condominiums will receive information from the Census Bureau in mid-March of 2020.  People living in group quarters, such as college dormitories and nursing homes, will receive information sooner – sometime in February 2020.  Census staff will work with the City, County, and area service providers to reach homeless residents through a special canvas to make sure that those without a permanent address are counted


How can I participate in the census?

  • For the first time, people will be encouraged to respond to the census online (e.g. computer, tablet, smartphone) via a postcard invitation.  Response via phone is encouraged for those without internet access.  All nonresponding households will receive a paper questionnaire for the fourth reminder to complete the census.  The City of Madison will provide locations, such as  libraries, for residents to fill out their census information online if they do not have convenient internet access. 



What questions will be on the census?

  • The following topics/questions will be included in the 2020 Census, and should be filled out for everyone living in the household:
    • Age: What is this person's age and what is this person's date of birth?
    • Hispanic Origin: Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?
    • Race: What is this person's race?
    • Relationship (for people in the household who are not filling out the information): How is this person related to Person 1?
    • Sex: What is this person's sex?
    • Tenure (Owner/Renter): Is this house, apartment, or mobile home owned with a mortgage, owned without a mortgage, rented, or occupied without payment of rent?
    • How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2020?
    • What are the first and last names of the people living here?
    • Were there any additional people staying here on April 1, 2020 that you did not include in Question 1?
    • Does any person living here usually live or stay somewhere else?
    • What is your telephone number?
  • The Trump administration is attempting to add a citizenship question to the census, which hasn't been asked since 1950.  Whether there will be a citizenship question is currently unknown.  Some background from the National League of Cities: "On March 26, 2018, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that it would add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census questionnaire. Unlike all other mandatory questions on the form, a citizenship question has not been tested in a contemporary decennial census environment. There is broad and bipartisan consensus that the addition of an untested question this late in the decennial cycle will suppress rates of self-reporting, balloon the cost of the 2020 Census and ultimately produce lower quality data on our communities. Several lawsuits to challenge the addition of the question are currently working their way through the courts.
  • The US Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on the citizenship question in April and issue a ruling this summer on whether the question may be included in the 2020 Census (citation: USA Today). 


Will personally identifiable census information be shared with any other governmental agencies, corporations, or people?

  • No - federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from sharing personally identifiable information with elected officials, other government departments, and private entities, and information may not be disclosed under any Freedom of Information Act requests.  Only a limited group of authorized Census Bureau employees can see any personally identifiable information. Any violation of the federal law governing census information is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. 


How will the census handle responses from people whose primary language is not English?

  • Internet census responses and census questionnaire assistance will be available in 12 languages:  Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Japanese.  These are the top 12 languages spoken by limited-English-speaking households.  Additionally, language glossaries and guides for the census will be available in a total of 59 non-English languages, including Hmong.  Please see this Census Bureau memorandum  for more information on non-English language support. 


Last Updated: 04/05/2019