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How to complete the 2020 United States Census—and why you should

The Census only happens every 10 years, and it’s worth participating

Census Call Center To Help People In Pennsylvania
A 2020 Census worker providing information on the phone
Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

The 2020 United States Census is currently nearing its end, and if you haven’t filled your responses out yet, you should. Since the Census is only held every 10 years, it’s very possible that this is the first time you’ve had to fill it out, or maybe you don’t remember how you did it last time, since a few things have changed.

Here’s your full guide on how to fill out the United States Census, and the reasons that you should do it.

What is the 2020 Census?

Let’s start with the easy stuff. The Census is the official count of every person living in the United States. It’s constitutionally mandated to happen every 10 years. The purpose of the Census is so that the government can collect various administrative data points about the United States, like the breakdown of people in various areas, the racial and gender make-up of the country, and even something as basic as the actual number of people living in the United States at the moment.

Should I fill out the Census?

Yes, you should. This data helps the government better determine federal budgeting and allocate funding. It also provides the relative population between different areas of the country to allow the government to organize voting districts, even the number of representatives each state has in Congress. These are critical functions of the government, so this data is important to collect and keep up to date. Also, for what it’s worth, refusal to answer the Census is technically illegal and could result in a fine.

How do I fill out the 2020 Census?

Thankfully, considering the general state of things, filling out the Census in 2020 is easier than it has ever been. In fact, all you have to do is go online to 2020census.gov and click “Respond” to get started. If you received a Census ID in the mail, you can find your 12-digit Census ID on the card and you should use that to log into the site. If you didn’t receive a Census ID, or if you did and can’t find it, you can get a new ID for the Census here.

Once you start the Census, you’ll just to fill in some basic information about yourself and your household.

Are there other ways to respond to the Census?

Yes. Instead of filling out the online form, you could also call and respond to the Census by phone — with several options for different languages — or you could respond to the mail-in questionnaire that you may have received. Any of these methods are perfectly fine.

How long do I have to fill out the 2020 Census?

This is actually the most complicated question here. As of the time of writing (Oct. 1 at 5 p.m. ET) the deadline for the Census is Oct. 5, so plan on that. However, this issue is currently tied up in court, as U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh has issued an injunction on the Census Bureau’s original planned end-date of Sept. 30. While this should have reverted the bureau back to its original plan of Oct. 31, instead the bureau has chosen to end its count on Oct. 5 instead. It’s currently unclear if the deadline will be extended to Oct. 31, or if it will remain Oct. 5, so plan on filling the Census out as quickly as possible.