What you need to know about the 2020 census

A 2018 letter from the test run of the 2020 Census.

No joke: It may be called Census Day, but April 1 isn’t actually the day the Census Bureau will start mailing out its 2020 census forms. That would be March 12.

Nor is it the day your census form is “due” (sorry, Jon Stewart). The final reminder postcard is set to go out in late April 2020, with in-person follow-up interviews to be conducted through July.


So what is April 1, 2020? Here’s the answer, along with a few other other things you might want to know about our once-in-a-decade population count in 2020.

What is the Census, and why does it happen every ten years?

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution mandates an “actual enumeration” of the U.S. population every ten years.


The goal of the decennial census is to achieve a complete population count of every living person in the country.

Many other countries also carry out a decennial population census, and it is the same periodicity recommended by the International Monetary Fund’s General Data Dissemination System.

Why is April 1 Census Day?

April 1 provides the official reference day for the decennial census, meaning that households are asked to answer the questions as of April 1. For example, on the 2010 Census form, the first question asked, “How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment, or mobile home on April 1, 2010?”

Why use April Fools’ Day as the reference day and not, say, New Year’s Day? The decision was made in 1930, prompted by difficulties 1920 census-takers faced during the winter months.

This year, many households won’t be getting in-person visits or paper forms at all. Instead, they’ll receive a letter with instructions on how to fill out the questionnaire online — the first time they’ll be able to respond this way.

What are the questions I will have to answer — and will citizenship be one of them?

In March 2018, the Census Bureau released a list of the questions it plans to include in the 2020 census form. These include questions about age, sex, Hispanic origin and race and, included in a decennial census for the first time since 1950, the question “Is this person a citizen of the United States?”

Following multiple lawsuits challenging the addition of the citizenship question, including in Maryland, the Supreme Court is reviewing the case and expected to rule by the end of June, when the census forms are set to be printed.

Elizabeth OuYang, coordinator of New York Counts 2020, speaks during a Nov. 2018,news conference outside the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse. Several lawsuits across the country have been filed challenging the citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Why does the Census Bureau think I should respond to these questions, and what does it think about the citizenship question?

In a nutshell, money and power. Information from the census determines how more than $675 billion dollars of federal funding are doled out, as well as how much political representation states and other localities get, from electoral college votes to congressional district seats.


For Maryland, “every person not counted equates to $1,821 in lost federal funding every year ($18,210 over ten years), until the next decennial census occurs in 2030,” according to a study by George Washington University.

In an interview with NPR prior to a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham said the bureau “must be totally objective” on the citizenship question issue.

What happens if I don’t fill out my Census form?

If you don’t fill out the Census form either online or by mail, and you don’t respond to the reminders, a Census enumerator will conduct an in-person “non-response follow-up” visit.

According to the Census Bureau’s map of hard-to-reach areas, some census tracts in Baltimore are predicted to have over a third of their households not responding to census mailers.

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The state department of planning has awarded more than $4 million in matching funds (meaning recipients are required to match the grant amount) to local governments and community organizations for census outreach.

More than $1 million will go to groups supporting outreach in Baltimore, including $250,000 to the city’s department of planning.

Geographic ReachAward RecipientMatching Grant Amount
Anne Arundel Anne Arundel County$45,000
Balt, Balt Co, AA, How, Fred, PG and MontVietnamese American Services, Inc.$62,900
Baltimore Action in Maturity, Inc.$25,000
Baltimore Baltimore City Department of Planning$250,000
Baltimore Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts$139,500
Baltimore Banner Neighborhoods$26,740
Baltimore No Boundaries Coalition$76,086
Baltimore Residents Services, Inc. $163,182
Baltimore Southwest Partnerships$30,000
Baltimore Unified Efforts, Inc$7,500
Baltimore Women's Home Preservation Fund$89,990
Baltimore City, Mont and Prince George'sGlobal Outreach Leaders$109,200
Baltimore Co.Baltimore County$250,000
Baltimore Metro RegionCatholic Charities$65,050
Baltimore City, Western MD, Eastern Shore, Southern MDGreen and Healthy Homes Initiative$125,000
Carroll Carroll County$40,000
Frederick Frederick County $80,000
Harford and CecilMoving Youth Toward Hope, Inc.$52,000
Harford Harford County$133,310
Howard Chinese American Parent Association, Howard Co. $50,000
Howard Howard County$150,240
Howard Howard County Chinese School$80,000
Montgomery Identity Inc.$123,080
Montgomery Montgomery County $581,700
Montgomery Montgomery County Renters Alliance$100,000
Prince George's City of College Park$34,385
Prince George's City of Greenbelt $15,000
Prince George's City of Seat Pleasant$18,636
Prince George's Northern Gateway$25,000
Prince George's Prince Georges County$244,208
Prince George's Town of Forest Heights $59,000
StatewideCASA de Maryland, Inc.$447,614
StatewideCentro De Apoyo Familiar$250,000
StatewideUnited Way of Central Maryland$110,000
StatewideYoung Invincibles$25,000
Washington Washington County Commission on Aging$15,000

Source: Maryland Department of Planning

How much do census enumerators make?

Census enumerators make $13.50 to $30 an hour, depending on where they live, plus reimbursement for mileage. To apply to be a census enumerator, or to check pay rates in your area, go to In Baltimore, enumerators are paid $18.50 an hour; in Baltimore County, the hourly rate is $22.

Where can I find data and stories about the U.S. population in the meantime?

Maybe 2020 will be “the biggest and best Census ever,” as Census director Steven Dillingham proclaimed in the Census Day press conference. But detailed tables from the 2020 Census won’t be released until Spring 2021.

That doesn’t mean you’re stuck with numbers from 2010. You can find more recent statistics from the Census Bureau’s other data releases, including:

  • The American Community Survey — a nationwide survey of about 3.5 million households — which provides social, economic and demographic information during intervening years.
  • The Population and Housing Unit Estimates, which combine decennial census data with information on births, deaths, Federal tax returns, medicare enrollment and immigration, to provide updated population counts.
  • The Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, which combine survey data with population estimates and administrative records to provide single-year income and poverty estimates.

No time to look through all that data? No worries. Here are some of our recent stories using Census Bureau data: