Census 101

What is the census?

The U.S. census counts the population of all 50 states, Washington D.C., and U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). The census is mandated by the Constitution and conducted every 10 years by the U.S. Census Bureau, a nonpartisan government agency. Participation in the census is required by law. 

While one might imagine census workers knocking on doors to physically count households, the process is much more efficient.  The 2020 census is the first time people can respond online, over the phone, or by mailing a paper questionnaire. In mid-March, the Census Bureau began sending official notices to households across the country with information on how to respond to the census. In response to COVID-19, data collection will continue until the end of October (previously August).

Why is the census important?

The census directly impacts each resident of the United States. Every year $675 billion is given out in federal funding based on census data to schools, hospitals, fire departments, public works, and other critical resources. Census data also determines the number of seats in the House of Representatives allocated to each state, and is used to draw congressional and state legislative districts. In short, your political representation and access to public resources depends on accurate, complete census data!

How are college students counted?

The Bard Office of Residence Life and Housing works with the Census Bureau to report how many students are living on campus. College students should list their on-campus address (PO Box 5000 Bard College 30 Campus Rd Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504) as their primary address. Students living off-campus should list that address as their primary address, as well. The census counts people based on where they live and sleep most of the time. Since Bard students use the public resources (schools, hospitals, fire departments, public works, etc.) in the Annandale-on-Hudson area for the majority of the year, it is important that they are counted there. It is also important to note that regardless of where Bard students choose to register to vote, Bard students are using the public resources in the Bard area for the majority of the year. Furthermore, to avoid being counted twice students should ensure that their parents/guardians do not count them in their household. 

How has the census been impacted by COVID-19?

In light of COVID-19, the Census Bureau has altered the timeline for the 2020 census. Though the census will still be conducted in stages to address different populations, the Census Bureau has extended the duration of these stages in order to take into account the impact of COVID-19. People will be able to “self-respond” online, by phone, or by mail throughout the data collection process from March 12 to October 31 (previously until July 31). As usual, on April 1, “Census Day,” the Census Bureau determined who had been counted and where. From April to September (previously until June), census workers will work with administrators at “group quarters” (colleges, prisons, senior centers, etc.) to count those populations. At this point, field offices prepare for data collection. Field activities, including in-person activities, have been postponed until after June 1 and will be conducted under updated health guidelines. Additionally, the “Nonresponse Followup” period, when census takers interview households in person, has been postponed to August 11-October 31 (previously May 13-July 31). The Census Bureau has yet to announce revised schedules for counting people served by soup kitchens and shelters, assisting with mobile responses, counting people experiencing homelessness outdoors. As these populations are already less likely to be counted in the census, it is critical that the Census Bureau revise its schedules and ensure that these populations are not left uncounted in the midst of COVID-19. While the pandemic currently consumes the nation’s attention, data collected in the 2020 census will affect resource distribution and political representation for the next ten years. Over the next decade in the wake of a global pandemic, the U.S. social welfare infrastructure will be even more critical to populations affected by COVID-19. Therefore, the Census Bureau must be given the resources necessary to conduct an accurate survey in order for every resident to have access to the resources and representation allotted to them.

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