The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Census 2010: What it Is and How it Works

The census is a nationwide head count of every person residing in the United States.

Who is counted?

  • The census counts every person who lives in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and Guam.
  • The census counts both citizens and non-citizens, including undocumented immigrants.
  • Even those people who don't have traditional "homes" are counted, such as people who are homeless, prison inmates, and residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
  • Military personnel and federal civilian government employees, as well as their dependents, who are stationed overseas are counted as part of the "overseas population" for purposes of congressional apportionment only.

When is the census held?

  • The constitution requires that a census be held every ten years.  We have had 22 censuses so far, starting in 1790.
  • The next census date is scheduled for 2010.
  • Although the census provides a snapshot of the population on one day, the U.S. Census Bureau will work throughout the year to make sure everyone is counted.

How is each household counted?

  • Census questionnaires will be mailed to all U.S. households in March 2010, and people will be asked to provide information that is accurate as of April 1, 2010.
  • Households that do not respond by mail will be sent a second form.
  • Census takers will visit households that do not respond to the second form, to collect the household's information, or determine if an address is uninhabited.  Census takers may return up to six times to make sure a household is included in the count.
  • People are counted at the location where they live and sleep most of the year.

How do I complete the form?

  • The census form is easy to complete and takes less than 10 minutes to fill out.  The questionnaire asks only a few simple questions for each person in the household: name, relationship, gender, age and date of birth, race, and whether the respondent owns or rents his or her home. The census does not ask about a person's immigration status.
  • In areas where there are likely to be a large number of Spanish speakers, the census form will be bilingual in English and Spanish.
  • You can call a phone number on the back of the English form to request a questionnaire in Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, or Russian.
  • Federal law requires that everyone participate in the census - you cannot "opt out."

What happens to the information?

  • The information on your census form is completely confidential, as mandated by federal law, and cannot be disclosed for 72 years.
  • The Census Bureau does not share your personal information with courts, the police, or other federal departments such as the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Homeland Security.
  • All Census Bureau employees have taken a lifetime oath to protect confidentiality and if they violate this oath,  face prison, a fine, or both.

What is census data used for?

  • Census data directly affects how almost $400 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated to communities for neighborhood improvements, public health, education, transportation and much more. That's more than $4 trillion over a 10-year period.
  • Census data is used to redistribute Congressional seats to each state based on population and to draw state legislative districts.
  • The census is like a snapshot that helps define who we are as a nation. Data about changes in your community are crucial to many planning decisions, such as where to provide services for the elderly, where to build new roads and schools, or where to locate job training centers.
  • See The Census & Civil Rights to find out more about why the census is an important civil rights issue.