With the census approaching in 2020, it’s more important than ever to have all the right facts about the Census 2020 survey and enumeration process. Knowing why the census is important, when key milestones will occur, the different methods by which to fill it out, and what language support is provided are essential in ensuring that Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are not left out of the 2020 census.

Why is the Census Important?

The census is required by the Constitution (Article I, Section II) to count all living persons in the United States. The survey has several vital purposes. The census is used to allocate nearly $800 billion every year in federal funding for employment, education, medical, housing and other resources to local communities and families. Political power is also distributed through the census as it is used specifically to reapportion the 435 seats in the House of Representatives to states according to population data. Census data are utilized to redraw the lines after apportionment through the redistricting process to ensure compliance with Voting Rights Act and the Constitutional principle of one-person, one vote.

Census Timeline

Even though Census Day is on April 1, 2020, preparations for census data collection kick off well in advance. For the 2020 Census, 248 area census offices will open, the Census Bureau will start recruiting temporary census staffers, and the Bureau will launch Phase 1 of their communications campaign in 2019. Even before the questionnaire is distributed fully, enumeration goes into full swing starting in the more remote parts of the United States at the start of 2020. Here is a timeline of key activities:

People will have three methods to respond to the census. The first option will be an online/internet option. The second will be a mail/paper questionnaire and the third option will be on the phone via Census Questionnaire Assistance.

The Census Bureau will utilize two different mailing strategies to contact people about the 2020 Census. The first will be “Internet First,” where households will be encouraged to complete the survey online. Internet Choice will for people living areas with low internet coverage or connectivity or other characteristics that may make it less likely that respondents will complete the census online, who will be offered both the choice to complete the survey online or to mail back a completed paper questionnaire.

Once the Self-Response Phase ends, the Census Bureau will move into the Non-Response Follow-Up Phase (NRFU). During NRFU, the Census Bureau will have on-the-ground enumerators that will knock on doors and interview people for any households that have not completed their questionnaire by internet, mail or phone.

Language Support

Approximately 32% of Asian Americans are limited-English proficient (LEP) and experience difficult speaking English, making non-English language support a crucial part of the census data collection process. The Census Bureau will be providing 12 non-English languages for people to fill out the questionnaire online and 59 non-English languages for materials such as language glossaries and language guides. Census Questionnaire Assistance, which allows for respondents to complete the census form over the phone, will also be provided in the following languages: Spanish, Chinese (simplified), Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Japanese.

Some Concerns with the 2020 Census

Citizenship Question

On March 26, 2018, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced his decision to add an untested and unnecessary citizenship question on the 2020 census, a question that has not been asked on the decennial census since 1950. The addition of the citizenship question will be a great detriment to the census as it targets immigrant communities and creates fear in filling out the questionnaire. This factsheet highlights the implications for Asian Americans if the citizenship question is added.

Loss of Language Coverage

The Census 2020 language program is lacking in several ways. Currently, it only includes one American Indian Language (Navajo) and includes no Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander languages. There are also several languages that were included in the 2010 Census which will not be included in the 2020 Census such as: Cebuano, Chamorro, Chuukese, Marshallese, Samoan and Tongan. These languages are spoken by Filipino and Pacific Islander communities and by excluding them from the 2020 Census, these communities are disadvantaged and in higher risk of being undercounted.

Reduced Field Infrastructure

The Census Bureau will have half the workforce as it did in the 2010 Census and will be increasing their reliance on technology and automation. This over-reliance on technology is problematic for our community. The hiring and recruitment process will be online only, which will make it more difficult for some community members from hard-to-count communities to access the process if they don’t have access to the internet. At the same time, the Census Bureau is also considering ending their policy of hiring Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) to serve as interpreters/translators, which would further limit the Census Bureau’s ability to hire the right people to conduct NRFU activities.


Raima Roy is the Program Associate, Census and Civic Engagement at Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC.

Advancing Justice | AAJC

Working to empower Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to participate in our democracy and fighting for civil and human rights for all.

Advancing Justice | AAJC

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Fighting for civil rights for all and working to empower #AAPIs to participate in our democracy. Follow: @johncyangdc @tao_minnis @meganessaheb @kjbagchi

Advancing Justice | AAJC

Working to empower Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to participate in our democracy and fighting for civil and human rights for all.

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