During this year’s high-profile fight over whether a citizenship question would appear on the 2020 Census, President Donald Trump lamented questions he said the census would ask: How many toilets, desks, and beds does a residence have? What’s the roof made out of?
But the 2020 Census, which starts next month in Alaska, won’t ask about any of that.
The Census Bureau asks for detailed information about homes in different surveys of a sample of the U.S. population, not in the nationwide decennial census counts. And in June, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked the question about people’s citizenship status, leading the Trump administration to abandon its pursuit of the matter. The question was decried as a way to enhance Republican political power by depressing population counts in immigrant-heavy communities.
“There is still misinformation out there about the questions,” said Stephanie Reid, executive director of Philly Counts 2020, the city’s census initiative.
The federal government, local and state governments, and community-based organizations are trying to combat misinformation about the population count, which will determine the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds. It begins nationwide in mid-March. Residents can respond online, by mail, or by phone.
One way Philadelphia has tried to combat misinformation is to focus on education. During one day in September, the city trained more than 2,200 people to be “Census Champions,” equipped to answer their neighbors’ questions about the 2020 Census.
“The key is, people need to be very active in filling out the census and also be very active in not letting themselves fall victim to any fraud or misinformation,” said Will González, who advocates for immigrants and people with limited English proficiency through the Philadelphia Complete Count Committee.
“We try to make it simple,” González, who is also executive director of Ceiba, a Philadelphia coalition of Latino community organizations, said of organizers’ messaging around the census. “We say it’s nine questions, 10 minutes.” (The total time depends on the size of the household.)
So what questions will the 2020 Census ask?
How many people live in your home?
The main objective of the decennial census is to count how many people reside in the United States. It’s the first question on the form. The instructions remind people to count babies and nonrelatives.
The form also asks for the name of each person living in a household, mainly so the Census Bureau can tell if a person’s information is submitted more than once — for example, if two members of the same household fill out forms.
The census questionnaire will ask for the sex, age, and date of birth of each person living in a household. It asks for everyone’s race and whether they are of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.
The Census Bureau uses these answers to create statistics for use in planning, gauging compliance with anti-discrimination laws, and directing services geared toward specific groups.
Do you own your home?
The questionnaire asks whether “this house, apartment, or mobile home” is owned with a mortgage or loan; owned without a mortgage or loan; rented; or occupied without payment of rent. The Census Bureau uses these answers to compile statistics about home ownership, rates of which are one indicator of the strength of the nation’s economy. Communities also use this information for housing programs and planning.
The Census Bureau asks for one phone number per household. The bureau says it will only call the number for official business, such as for clarification of answers.
In an attempt to keep people from being victims of fraud via phone, González said he and others are spreading the word that it’s unlikely the Census Bureau will call. The bureau will not send emails asking people to respond to the census.
What won’t the 2020 Census ask?
When people hear what the census will ask at city presentations, they sometimes say, “Oh, that’s it?” said Liam Dougherty, policy and projects coordinator at Liberty Resources, which advocates for and works with people with disabilities in the Philadelphia area. Dougherty is also a member of the Philadelphia Complete Count Committee’s subcommittee on people with disabilities.
The 2020 Census will not ask for anyone’s Social Security number, for money, or for bank account or credit card numbers. It will not ask for household income or details about how a home is built.
Dougherty said that because of the “drama” and disinformation circulating about the census, “people are expecting more than they’re going to get.”