What Is The Decennial Census?

The U.S. census attempts to count every person in the United States. It is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution and takes place every 10 years.

The first census took place in 1790.

When Will the 2020 Census Take Place​?
The first mailings for the 2020 Census will go out in mid-March 2020. By the first week of April 2020, most households should receive a letter or a postcard about how to complete the questionnaire online or by phone. There are three (3) ways the public can fill out the census.
  1. Online: Households can fill out the questions via the internet.
  2. By U.S. Mail: Households will also be able to request a printed census questionnaire be mailed to them.
  3. Residents who have not responded to the online survey within approximately 3 weeks will be mailed a printed questionnaire (in English and Spanish) by mail.
  4. Person to Person: Phone calls or in-person visits by census workers to homes that have not filled out the census will begin in May 2020.
US Census concludes in September 2020. All times are approximate.

What’s New in 2020?
For the first time, residents will be asked to complete the questionnaire online, using a computer or tablet. Websites will be available in English and 12 other languages. Additional language assistance will be accessible through translators.
By utilizing online response, the US Census hopes that this will reduce the cost of the census and the need for in-person household visits by census workers (enumerators).

What are Hard to Count (HTC) Communities?
Hard to Count (HTC) communities are those with a low Census response rate based on the results of the 2010 census. Sacramento County has been identified as one of the top 10 HTC counties in California. It is 40th of the top 50 HTC counties in the nation. The State of California is working with local governments and community-based organizations to encourage those who may not have participated in 2010, to BE COUNTED in 2020. An undercount of our community hurts everyone!
Certain groups have historically been undercounted. HTC groups, according to the U.S. Census, generally include:
  • Latinos
  • African-Americans
  • Native Americans and Tribal Communities
  • Asian-Americans & Pacific Islanders
  • Middle-Eastern North Africans
  • Immigrants and Refugees
  • Farmworkers
  • People with Disabilities
  • Seniors/Older Adults
  • Homeless Individuals and Families
  • Children Ages 0-5
  • Veterans
  • Areas with low broadband subscription rates and limited or no access
  • Households with limited English proficiency
View Sacramento County’s Hard-to-Count Communities for more information.​

Why is it Important to Count Everyone?
Public officials, planners, and entrepreneurs use census data to assess the past and plan the future. It is important that California and Sacramento get their fair share of funding, business opportunities and Congressional representation for the next decade. For each person not counted in the 2020 Census, it is estimated that Sacramento County could lose $1,000​ per person per year of federal funds for the following decade.

Is Census Data Really Confidential?
Yes. The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the United States Code, making it unlawful for any Bureau employee to disclose or publish any information that identifies an individual or business. This holds for all government entities as well, such as the FBI: none have the legal right to access this information. And for all census data, the “72-Year Rule” applies: the government is not allowed to release data on individuals for 72 years. Census data on individuals from the 1940 census only became available in April of 2012. Census information is confidential and may be used only to prepare statistical reports. All Census Bureau employees take an oath of nondisclosure and are sworn for life to protect all information that could identify individuals. Any employee who violates the provisions of the oath is subject to a fine up to $250,000 or a prison sentence up to 5 years, or both.
Furthermore, information is protected from cybersecurity risks and all questionnaires submitted online will be encrypted to protect the responder’s privacy.

How safe are my census questionnaire responses?

It is against federal law to share census information with immigration enforcement agencies, law enforcement, or any other agency, or to use it to determine a persons’ eligibility for government benefits. Read the  2020 Census and ​​​Confidentiality (English) and  2020 Census and Confidentiality (Spanish) ​


For more answers, visit the US Census Bureau’s Frequently Asked Questions.

Read Sacramento County’s 2020 Census Facts Sheet for more information ​