Census 2020: Counting the U.S. Population

In the light of everything else that has happened so far this year, it is easy to forget that we are also in the midst of a decennial census. At Camoin 310 we have been eagerly awaiting the 2020 census and are excited for the results to come in! Here we take a brief look at what the decennial census is, why participation is important (and required), and what COVID-19’s impact on the process is.

What is the decennial census?

The decennial census counts every person living in the United States and five U.S. territories. The count is mandated by the Constitution and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, a nonpartisan government agency. Each home should have received an invitation to respond to the short questionnaire in March of this year. Households are required to respond to this survey by law and can do so online, by phone, or by mail.

The first census U.S. census was conducted in 1790 and counted the original 13 states; the districts of Kentucky, Maine, and Vermont; and the Southwest Territory (Tennessee). In conducting the census, U.S. marshals and assistants traveled by horseback and on foot to record responses and count the population. The first census found the population of the U.S. to be over 3.9 million people.

Why is the decennial census important?

We Camoiners and others across the economic development profession use U.S. Census Bureau data across our projects, including insights gleaned from the decennial census, so we are excited to get the eventual results! Beyond this however, there are many other reasons why it is important for all residents to participate in this decennial survey. Some of these are listed below:

  • State population counts from the decennial census are used to reapportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. This means that state population counts determine how the 435 seats are split across the 50 states based on each state’s share of the national population. As in 2010, states that have gained in population over the last ten years will gain representation in Congress at the expense of states that have lost population over the same time period.
  • Decennial census results are used in redistricting and help state and local officials redraw congressional, state and local district boundaries to ensure each person’s voting power is closely equivalent.
  • Population data helps determine the amount of funding that state governments and local communities receive from the federal government, for things such as health, education, housing, and infrastructure.
  • Results also help to determine the need for new roads, hospitals, schools, and other public sector investments.
  • Community organizations and nonprofits use the data to develop social service programs, including senior and childcare programs.
  • Businesses use the data in their decision making- for example, understanding where to locate a new branch or store. The data helps to identify potential markets for a product.
  • Data is used to help plan for emergency responses, by helping to identify where and how much help is needed.
  • The decennial survey acts as a base for other federal surveys (more data for us to use- yay!).

What is COVID-19’s impact on the 2020 census?

Unsurprisingly, the 2020 census is yet another activity that has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials have delayed or extended most phases of the census, temporarily reduced staff, and canceled job fairs used to recruit census-takers. Organizations have also canceled in-person community awareness events. As of the publication of this article, the deadline for responding to the census has been extended from July 31 to October 31.

While the ease of the ability to respond online has ensured that responses are still coming in, there is however a concern for the accuracy of the results. With reduced staff and field operations, there is the potential that the census may under represent certain demographics while overweighing groups that are able to access the response form online and respond from home. Additionally, the movement of people as a result of the pandemic, especially of college students returning home, could impact funding distributions that are determined based on the count (although according to the U.S. Census Bureau, students affected by college and university closures should still be counted where they live while at school).

For more information and COVID-19 related updates please use this link



Chatzky, Andrew and Cheatham, Amelia. Why Does the Census Matter? Council on Foreign Relations, 2 April 2020.

Mather, Mark and Scommegna, Paola. Why Is the U.S. Census So Important? PRB, 15 March 2019.

Roos, Dave.  Why Is the Census Important? HowStuffWorks.

United States Census 2020, 2020census.gov.



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