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2020 Census : Why the Census?

This guide draws upon work by Katherine Paterson, Loyola University Libraries and Linda Zellmer, Western Illinois University Library

Why Do We Need the Census?

Every 10 years, since 1790, the Census has the goal to count every person living in the United States on April 1, 2020 and to gather some information about those people. The data we get from the Census is very powerful.



The Census can also help regular people with their research and decision-making. Because Census data is government information, it is freely available to you. Census data can help community members and researchers to...

  • Learn more about their communities 
  • Plan for business decisions 
  • Conduct research to analyze social and economic conditions

Amazing Apportionment Machine

A quick explanation of how seats in the House of Representatives are reallocated after each decennial census.

Census 101

Concerns About Being Counted

Several organizations have answered commons questions about the impact that the 2020 Census will have on communities and on individuals.

For additional guidance on outreach to communities, including the disabled and LGBTQ community members, the City of Chicago provides an excellent resource list.

Citizenship Questions?

The "citizenship question" will NOT be included in the 2020 Census.

Much has been made about potentially including a question about whether or not census respondents are American citizens. Three federal courts have since blocked the Trump Administration's attempt to get this question onto census forms.

The Trump Administration's Perspective

During his testimony before Congress, the Secretary of Commerce (the department which distributes the Census), Wilbur Ross, said the question was added because Justice Department requested more citizenship data to help enforce the Voting Rights Act. Members of the administration--and some Supreme Court Justices--also stated that questions about citizenship were nothing new, and that similar questions have been included in most US Censuses. Many historians have stated that this is an oversimplification. Regardless, the citizenship question was defeated in court, as the Trump Administration was unable to prove that its motives for including the question were related to the Voting Rights Act. President Trump offered this statement in response, and issued an executive order to collect citizenship data via other agencies. 

The Arguments Against The Citizenship Question

Protesters argued that questions of citizenship have previously been used to the detriment of non-citizens, including the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. They also argued that citizens and non-citizens alike may choose not to answer the question or not to take the census out of fear or as a form of protest, resulting in inaccurate data. Specifically, detractors were worried that this would lead to an undercount of vulnerable populations who already lack political power. A scholarly view of the citizenship question is undertaken in the Georgetown Law Journal.  You may search NUSearch for more information.