Data & Resources

2020 Census

Contact: Sharon Swanson


What is the U.S. Census?

Every 10 years, the United States conducts a “decennial Census,” as mandated by Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. The goal of the Census is to count every person who lives in the country.

In past years, the U.S. Census Bureau mailed every household a paper form, to be filled out with information about everyone living in the home. If households did not fill out and submit the Census form and mail it back, then Census canvassers would visit the household and directly ask for the information.

In March 2020, every household will receive a letter invitation in the mail or from a Census worker to respond online to the questionnaire. Households will be able to answer the questionnaire in 3 ways: by filling out information on a paper questionnaire received in the mail, by phone, or via an online version of the questionnaire.

Watch AWC’s 2020 Census webinar

2020 Census dollars for cities and counties
The state is offering $2 million in funding assistance to Washington cities, counties, and libraries to support community outreach and education for the 2020 Census. Applications considered on a rolling basis while funds remain.



Why is the Census important to Washington’s cities and towns?

The Census directly impacts the funding your city or town will receive over the next decade
The federal government uses U.S. Census data to help decide where money should go. Over $600 billion per year is distributed to communities across the U.S. based on Census data. While many financial assistance programs and block grants, like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), are distributed to cities based on American Community Survey (ACS) statistics, the benchmark for all ACS data is the U.S. Census.

An accurate Census helps ensure fair representation at all levels of government
The primary constitutional purpose for the decennial Census is to determine how many congressional representatives each state will have for the next decade and to ensure equal representation in the redistricting process. Based on 2010 Census data, Washington State’s population grew 14.1% from 2000. With that growth, Washington earned an additional (10th) seat in Congress.


City and town populations, demographics, and legislative district boundaries are all determined by Census data.

The Census provides the most reliable and complete data for research, decision-making, and planning for both the public and private sectors
Academic institutions, medical facilities, businesses of all sizes, and all levels of government rely on Census data to inform their research, decision-making, and planning. While the decennial Census only asks a few basic questions, the population counts and demographic data that it produces serve as a benchmark for most other current statistics that help us gain deeper insights into our communities.

The following are just a few of the ways Washington’s communities rely on Census data:

  • Demographic composition of a community and constituency
  • Procurement and provision of services
  • Infrastructure and transportation planning
  • Allocation of resources and a way to direct financial assistance
  • Emergency preparedness, disaster relief, and resiliency planning
  • Characterization of built structures for zoning and permitting processes
  • Measurement of the success and outcomes of local programs or initiatives
  • Medical research and planning (public health tracking, vaccinations, disease control, etc.)
  • Socioeconomic research on local communities
  • Statistics and metrics
  • Supply chain and logistics management for businesses development
  • Determining new markets and where to expand infrastructure
  • Forecasting sales and growth projections
  • Location of retail outlets and logistics facilities
  • Workforce and economic development



Who is counted in the Census?

The mission of the U.S. Census is to count every person living in the U.S. regardless of age, race, or citizenship status
Although city governments will not be administering the Census questionnaires, cities and towns play critical roles in making sure all residents have what they need to participate in the Census. Cities can play an especially important role helping to increase participation with historically undercounted populations. “Hard-to-Count” populations are determined by the percentage of households that did not respond by mail to the 2010 Census. You can assess your community’s Hard-to-Count population by using this Census Bureau’s Hard-to-Count tool.



How can our city or town help ensure that everyone in our community is counted?

Watch a recording of AWC’s Census 2020 webinar
We know the importance of the Census and working together to make sure everyone is educated about it and motivated to respond. With more than $600 billion in federal funding and grant money on the line, cities across Washington are preparing to ensure their communities will be accurately counted. Has yours?! Find out more about preparing your community for a total count by watching this webinar.

Designate a point of contact for Census preparedness in your city
Who’s in charge for your city? Cities and towns should consider designating a point of contact for local Census preparedness operations. Different communities will have different levels of need or resources for Census preparedness, but tasking one lead person can help ensure that communication with your city is clear and efficient. For larger cities, this may mean a new dedicated staffer; for smaller communities, this may mean designating an existing employee in your Office of Community Engagement or Planning Office. Once designated, make sure your Census contact is plugged into NLC’s Local Census Preparedness Network by completing their survey.

Work in tandem with Census Bureau staff and regional offices
The Census Bureau operates six regional offices and will be opening more than 200 field offices, and continues to hire partnership specialists to work with municipal partners to ensure coordination across levels of government. Local governments serve as a critical partner in helping the Bureau know where to count residents—make sure to respond to Bureau inquiries and share data you may have to identify hard-to-count neighborhoods in your community. Also be sure to notify the Bureau if your community forms a Complete Count Committee.

Form a Complete Count Committee
To ensure a complete and accurate count, engage your community and develop “trusted voices” to provide information and motivation to residents of your city. One proven tool is the Complete Count Committee, a volunteer organizing body created at the local level to increase awareness of and participation in the Census.

Find the trusted voices in your community and get them on board
Local government remains the most trusted level of the government in survey after survey. Still, a growing climate of fear and declining trust in civic institutions has left some populations distrustful of all levels of government. Residents need to hear from community voices they trust: educators, small business owners, medical professionals, religious leaders, community activists and local media. Local leaders are uniquely positioned to convene these voices and make sure they understand what an accurate count means to your community.



2020 Census timeline and important dates

  • January-March 2019: The U.S. Census Bureau opens 39 area Census offices. These offices open early to support address canvassing.
  • June-September 2019: The Census Bureau opens the remaining 209 area Census offices. These offices support and manage the Census takers who work all over the country to conduct the Census.
  • August 2019: The Census Bureau conducts in-field address canvassing. Census takers visit areas that have added or lost housing in recent years to ensure that the Census Bureau's address list is up to date.
  • January 2020: The Census Bureau begins counting the population in remote Alaska.
  • April 1, 2020: Census Day is observed nationwide. By this date, households will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. You'll then have three options for responding: online, by mail, or by phone.
  • April 2020: Census takers begin following up with households around selected colleges and universities. Census takers also begin conducting quality check interviews.
  • May 2020: The Census Bureau begins following up with households that have not responded.
  • December 2020: The Census Bureau delivers apportionment counts to the president.



Additional resources and materials

National League of Cities (NLC):

Washington Nonprofits: 2020 Census Action Kit

Washington State Office of Financial Management

U.S. Census Bureau

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