The 2020 Census is Coming – Make Sure You’re Counted

Once every ten years in the United States, a census is taken. The objective is to count every person living here. The number is used for several different reasons:

  • From it is determined how many representatives each state will have in the US congress.
  • Each state uses their numbers to map the areas covered by each congressional district.
  • The Federal government uses the numbers to determine how much of the more than $765 billion for the various programs it supports each state and region in the state will receive.
  • States frequently use the numbers to determine the number of representatives in their state legislatures and the size of the district each represents.

The US Census from 1790 to the Present

The first census was taken in 1790. There has been one every ten years since then. The next one is scheduled for 2020.

The Federal government hires people as census takers. From 1790 to the middle of the 20th century these census takers went from home to home and counted the people in each household.

The 1960 census was the first one where a census questionnaire was mailed out to every household. The people living in each were asked to complete it and send it back.   In each census after that through the 2010 census, the procedure was the same. Census takers only followed up when people failed to fill out and return the paper questionnaire.

Technology has advanced to the point where the Census Bureau is making a change. It believes most people can submit their household information online. Rather than a questionnaire in the mail, most Americans will get a post card asking them to go online and complete the questionnaire there.   They can use their computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone to do this.

Paper questionnaires are still available. It is expected the only people who will complete these are those without access to a computer, laptop, tablet or smart phone, who live in an area where there is no internet or cell phone access, or who have problems filling the information out online. The Census Bureau will send or give them the paper questionnaire.

Main Information Being Collected

On the questionnaire, the Census Bureau is requesting various pieces of information.  Here are the main ones:


The government uses this to allocate federal funding for education under the Higher Education Act of 1965 and to enforce rules against gender-based discrimination.


The government needs this for several different reasons. Schools and Head Start programs rely on this data. It is also used in programs providing services and assistance to older people, such as, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The data is also used to enforce laws against age discrimination.


This question has been on the questionnaire since the 1970 Census. Those who answer yes are also asked which broad Hispanic group they identify with.

This information is used to make sure Hispanic people are getting needed medical services under the Public Health Service Act and they are protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act.


This data is used to enforce rules against discrimination by race and, specifically, to make sure people are not being discriminated when they are seeking jobs.  It is also used to determine how many people are eligible for specific Federal programs based on their race.

There is No Citizenship Question

You may have heard some government officials wanted to add a citizenship question. The US Supreme Court decided it would not be added.


The law requires all the information people include on the questionnaires has to remain strictly confidential. Any violation of this confidentiality requirement carries a fine of up to $250,000 and time in jail of up to 5 years.

Some People May Not Respond

Even though a citizenship question is not on the questionnaire and even though violation of confidentiality can result in a substantial fine and jail time, certain ethnic groups don’t believe their responses won’t be used against them.

As recently as October of 2019, 20% of Hispanics indicated they may not complete the Census form.

Only 12% of white people said they may not. A higher percentage of black people may not complete the form. Also, people in the 18 to 29 age group are less likely to complete it.

Two Potential Problems with Online Completion

There are two potential problems with completing the questionnaire online rather than on paper.

The first is the possibility of people being victimized. Thieves will be posing as Census takers and trying to get personal information, like social security, bank account and credit card numbers. They will use this information to drain their victims’ bank accounts, make purchases in their names or steal their identities.

Older people most likely will be their victims.

The Census Bureau or Census takers will never ask for a person’s full social security, bank account or credit card numbers. They also won’t ask the person to pay for anything or to make any donation. Anyone who does is trying to take advantage of them.

The second problem is one people don’t have to worry about. However, it is one that may affect the accuracy of the census itself.  Since most information will be submitted online, it opens the door to computer hackers getting into the system and distorting the data.

The Census Bureau tested the system in 2018. The website was hacked by Russian hackers.  If it is hacked during the 2020 Census, there will be strong doubts about the accuracy of the data.

It is Important for You to Take Part

As you can imagine, much depends on a complete and accurate Census. It’s important for you to take part in the 2020 Census.

Complete the information when you are requested to do so. If you and many others don’t, there can be some negative consequences.

  • Your representative in Congress and the number of people they represent may be Impacted.
  • It also may have a negative impact on your state representative and the Tennessee State Government.
  • The non-profit organizations in Knoxville and Knox County also can be affected. Federal grants for programs they have may be reduced or eliminated.  Your relatives, friends and neighbors who rely on these programs or need them to survive may no longer have access to them.

Precautions to Take

Remember that during the census itself, people are going to try to take advantage of others. Never give your Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers to anyone.

If someone comes to your home saying they’re a Census taker, ask to see their photo ID with the U.S. Department of Commerce seal and expiration date. They are required to do so.  If they don’t, refuse to talk with them.

You can also ask them to give you a supervisor’s contact information and/or the phone number of the regional office of the Census Bureau, Call and verify the person you are talking to is a Census taker.

Be wary of people contacting you by phone. Make sure not to give them any of this information.

If you have older parents or relatives, help them from being victimized. Talk to them about the 2020 Census.  Discuss with them how to protect themselves from being taken advantage of.  Have the same discussion with any of your older friends or neighbors.

Are You Looking for Ways to Supplement Your Income?

You may be able to do this and help out Knoxville and Knox County.

The Census Bureau is looking for people to become census takers. There are both full and part-time jobs available. As of December,2020, the bureau was still looking for 4,400 people in Knox County.

The jobs pay well. The only problem is this is temporary work and will only last until the census is completed.

If you’re interested in one of these jobs, you can apply online at


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