The 2020 census will be online. Here’s what you need to know ahead of time.

Next April, every person in the country will be asked to participate in the nationwide census. The decennial census counts are used to keep track of the total population and where they live as well as to distribute $675 billion of federal money per year, both to states and to areas like human services and education.

It’s also used in redistricting to determine congressional representation. Stacey Carless, executive director of the NC Counts Coalition, said North Carolina is expected to gain another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives based on 2020 census data.

Mecklenburg County put together a committee working to get the most accurate count possible, and residents can start preparing as well.

Where will it happen?

The April 1, 2020, census will be the first one conducted online. In March 2020, every residence will receive a postcard in the mail with instructions on how to fill it out online. The census can be completed on any computer with an internet connection, and the process replaces a paper form or an in-person visit.

Eighty percent of U.S. homes will receive the postcard instructions. The other 20% will get a paper form in English and Spanish. The census is still working to determine who will receive what, but everyone has the option for the online census.

Each household will receive four notices by mail about the census. If residents don’t respond, a census representative will come to the door.

What if I don’t have internet access?

Community centers and libraries provide free internet access. The Mecklenburg Public Library has 22 branches. Residents can fill out the census on any of these computers, or at the computer banks at the county Department of Social Services.

If you don’t want to fill out the form online, people can call the number on the information packet to request a paper form in English or Spanish, or answer the survey questions by phone. Call responders and online forms are available in 13 languages, and language and video guides are available in 60 languages.

People without a home can take the census in places where they would receive services, such as shelters. The census is still narrowing down the locations, but there will be three days in early April when census representatives will be on-hand to assist.

If an adult or child splits time between two or more homes, they should be counted where they spend the majority of their time or where they are on April 1, 2020.

Will it ask about citizenship status?

A federal judge formally banned a proposed question regarding citizenship on the 2020 census. Carless said that residents will not be asked any information about their citizenship status.

Is it confidential?

Yes. Everyone who works for the Census Bureau has to take a lifetime oath to keep all information secret for 72 years. People who violate the oath can be put in prison for five years or fined up to $250,000.

Federal law prohibits all governments and courts from using information gathered through the census against a respondent.

What’s the census like in Mecklenburg County?

Mecklenburg County contains some of the hardest-to-count census tracts in the state because of historically miscounted groups like homeless people, underrepresented communities such as minority groups and children 4 years old or younger, according to Deborah Goldberg, the county’s 2020 Census Complete Count Coordinator. The county may give presentations in schools or host workshops about how to exercise census rights.

One of the most underrepresented groups is the Latino community, said Juliana Cabrales, the Mid-Atlantic director of the NALEO Educational Fund. The last census may have missed 9,500 Latino children throughout the state, and the local and federal government will focus on getting a more accurate count of the community in 2020.

In 2010, 77% of Mecklenburg County residents responded during the self-response period. The people who didn’t received a home visit.

The Census Bureau is currently hiring around 1,800 people for census-taking jobs, including people of diverse backgrounds. All citizens 18 years or older with a Social Security number can apply.

Carless said that the government is looking at opening up the process to permanent residents as well.


An earlier version of this story gave the wrong government unit that is hiring census-takers. It is the Census Bureau, not the county. The story also gave an incomplete explanation of where people who split time between multiple homes are counted. They should be counted where they spend the majority of their time or where they are on April 1, 2020. The story also incorrectly described the federal law prohibiting the use of information gathered through the census. The law prohibits all governments and courts from using information gathered through the census against all respondents, not just citizens.