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Asking for Input on Counting People in the Right Place in 2020

Thu Jun 30 2016
John H. Thompson
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Note: The comment period for the proposed 2020 Census Residence Criteria and Residence Situations has been extended until September 1, 2016.

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The U.S. Census Bureau’s mission is to count every person living in the U.S. every ten years during the decennial census. Just as important as counting each person, though, is making sure we count them in the right place.

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Since the first census in 1790, the Census Bureau has followed a basic guideline, given to us by Congress, that says people should be counted where they live and sleep most of the time. For most people, applying this principle is straightforward. But for others — such as college students, members of the military and prisoners — knowing where to count them in the census can be more complicated. Over time, we have developed consistent criteria so that we accurately count people in more complicated situations.

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In May 2015, we published a Federal Register notice that described where we counted people in 2010 and solicited comments on how we might change our guidelines for where people are counted in 2020. This decade is the first time that we’ve publicly opened up our deliberations on where we count people.

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We received more than 260 comments, mostly focused on prisoners and deployed military personnel. After evaluating all of the comments we received, today we published in the Federal Register the proposed guidance for counting people in 2020.

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Now, again, we’re asking the public to comment on our proposed criteria for determining residence that we will use for the 2020 Census. Some of the living situations addressed in the new Federal Register notice are explained here:

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  • In 2020, we propose to count deployed military personnel at their usual home address as part of the U.S. resident population. This means that they will be included in the block-level counts that are used to draw boundaries for Congressional, legislative, school and voting districts, and to allocate federal resources at the local level. Previously, military and civilian employees of the U.S. government who were deployed or stationed overseas were counted in their home state of record for apportionment purposes only.
  • We have determined that counting prisoners at the correctional facility in 2020 is consistent with the basic principle of counting people where they live and sleep most of the time. The Census Bureau will provide tools to help states make their own decisions about whether to include prisoners when they redraw district boundaries. We’ll break out the data so that states will have a separate count of prisoners, and we’ll provide a geocoding tool to help states reallocate their prisoner population counts, if needed. Prisoners were counted at the correctional facility in previous censuses as well.
  • In 2020, we propose to count the crews of U.S. flag maritime or merchant vessels who are sailing between U.S. and foreign ports on census day at their usual home address, or at the U.S. port if they have no usual home address. Previously, they were not counted in the census.
  • In 2020, we propose to count juveniles in non-correctional residential treatment centers at their usual home address, or at the facility if they have no usual home address. Previously, they were counted at the facility.
  • In 2020, we propose to count people living in religious group quarters at the facility. Previously, they were counted at their usual home address, or at the facility if they had no usual home address.
  •  In 2020, we propose to count students attending college in the U.S. at the residence where they live and sleep most of the time, whether a parental home, or an on- or off-campus residence. Previously, they were counted the same way.

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We know that any change in where we count people can have far-reaching effects — on how we take the census, on political representation, and on funding decisions at every level of government — and we want to give everyone the chance to weigh in. I encourage you to read the proposed guidelines and give us your input. The final 2020 Census Residence Criteria and Residence Situations will be published in the Federal Register by the end of 2016.

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