Census Answers About Coronavirus, COVID-19 And Now-Blocked Citizenship Question Who gets counted in the 2020 census? What kind of information do households have to give? NPR answers questions about the national head count required by the U.S. Constitution once a decade.

What You Need To Know About The 2020 Census

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Mark your calendars. One year from today, the entire United States will be able to take part in a once-in-a-decade tradition - a headcount of every person living in the country. The numbers from the 2020 census will shape how political power and federal funding are shared over the next 10 years. But there are plenty of challenges to an accurate count, including a Supreme Court battle. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covers all things census related and joins us now in the studio.

Hi, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: The 2020 census is going to be different. Right?

WANG: This is going to be a little different. This is going to be the first census in the U.S. to allow all households to either respond online, return a paper form or call a 1-800 number. The Census Bureau is also more than doubling the number of languages you can respond to the census in compared to 2010. New languages include Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese and Japanese.

And there's a change to the race question - really interesting. If you identify as white, you'll be asked to write in your non-Hispanic origins, like German or Irish. Or if you identify as black, you're going to be asked to write in origins like Jamaican or Nigerian. And really important to remember - why do all of these details matter?

MARTIN: Right. Why do we care about the census, Hansi?

WANG: ...This is about everyone getting their fair share based on how many people are living in the country. This is about how we distribute congressional seats and Electoral College votes around this country, to each state. And also, it guides federal funding. More than $800 billion a year is estimated to - for local services, for local communities is distributed based on census numbers.

MARTIN: OK. That matters. But - interesting. They're trying to increase access - right? - to get an accurate count. I know, though, that there has been a looming debate over whether or not to include a citizenship question. You've been following that legal dispute. Where do things stand?

WANG: Two federal judges have ruled to block these plans the Trump administration wants to enact. This is a question that asks - is this person a citizen of the United States? And whether or not it will stay or go, right now it's going to be a final word - we're waiting for final word from the Supreme Court. They're hearing oral arguments on April 23.

And the federal judges that have ruled so far - one in New York, one in California - they've ruled that it violates administrative law to add this question. And a judge in California has ruled that it's unconstitutional to add this question because it harms the ability of the federal government to count every person in the country, as the Constitution requires.

MARTIN: Right. So you mentioned that part of these changes to make it more accessible is to allow people to fill out responses online. Of course, we live in a time where there are all kinds of talk about cybersecurity threats. Is that an issue here?

WANG: That is certainly an issue. The Census Bureau is really concerned about this. And so they are preparing for, you know, at any given time, more than 100,000 users on the Census Bureau's website that will be launched next year for people to respond online. And so right now, they're working very hard to try to build up the IT infrastructure to try to prevent that website from crashing, to prevent people from hacking the information - want to keep that census data confidential.

There's also concern about, you know, disinformation campaigns. This is going to be the first social media census, if you will, and also taking place during the presidential race.

MARTIN: So you mentioned all these outstanding questions about the 2020 census. It's real close, though. And it takes a long time to print a census, doesn't it?

WANG: It is very close. You know, one of the most urgent deadline is June. And last week, a Census Bureau official Al Fontenot, he emphasized that the - there's a printing company. They've got two versions of the census form - one with the citizenship question, one without. Let's listen to what he said.


AL FONTENOT: The printer knows that when the Supreme Court decision is made, we give them the go to start the process with the set of plates they're ready to use.

MARTIN: Amazing.

WANG: Bureau says the printing has to start in June - in July, rather.

MARTIN: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang covering the 2020 census for us. Thanks, Hansi.

WANG: You're welcome.

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