What's New for 2020

What's New

The 2020 Census will be the first to offer options for internet and phone responses.

In previous modern-day censuses, people could submit their responses by mail using a paper questionnaire or, if they failed to self-report, they could respond in-person to an enumerator. In 2020, the Census Bureau will encourage households to respond through an online portal. This new response method may raise citizen concerns about data privacy and confidentiality. The Census Bureau houses some of the most secure servers within the federal government and is working with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal cybersecurity experts to ensure that its systems are up-to-date with current threats. The 2020 Census will also allow people to provide their responses over the phone for the first time.  

There will be a greater reliance on technology to prepare for and execute the count.

The census continues to reinvent itself to take advantage of new technologies with each passing decade, but the 2020 Census will feature significant technological advancements that local leaders should be aware of:

  • Lead-Up Activities: The Census Bureau has increasingly relied on its partnerships with state and local governments to update its Master Address File (MAF) and ensure that every living quarter in the U.S. is included in the census universe. The Census Bureau has also turned to aerial imaging software from the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and other agencies to supplant a large portion of costlier “in-field” activities, such as in-person canvassing of every street and road, to finalize the address file. These advancements will limit the presence of census employees in cities prior to the enumeration (or counting) process in 2020.
  • Enumeration: In addition to a new online response portal, the Census Bureau is also introducing greater automation into the enumeration process. Census takers will be equipped with smart devices, and all door-to-door visits (called Nonresponse Follow-up, or NRFU) will be conducted digitally instead of with pen and paper as in previous decennial censuses. The electronic devices will allow enumerators to transmit the data they collect in real time, directly to the Census Bureau’s IT systems. Census takers will also receive their daily assignments and report their hours worked electronically, reducing the need for a larger number of local census area offices.

The country is experiencing a period of heightened fear and deliberate misinformation.

Most of the changes that will make the 2020 Census different from previous censuses are positive advancements. However, there are unmistakable challenges related to the current heightened climate of fear in many communities, ongoing misinformation campaigns and database hacking attempts — both domestic and foreign. Trust in government remains at a historic low, which compounds these challenges.

Census advocates will spend the next two years preparing to counter misinformation campaigns that are designed to suppress response rates, exacerbate undercounts of certain populations, weaken American democracy and generally disrupt institutional processes. As the level of government most trusted by the public, local leaders can serve as invaluable trusted voices and champions by using both the bully pulpit and city social media channels to instill confidence in the census process and counter false information. 

From NLC.org