Why it Matters

The 2020 Census: What and Why

What is the Census? The census is the constitutionally-required count of every person living in the United States. A census has been taken every ten years since 1790. Why the Census Matters Census population counts are used to apportion seats in the United States House of Representatives, as well as state legislatures, county boards and often school boards. Being counted in the census is essential to political power in America. The census is also used to distribute money. The federal government uses census population counts to allocate over $1.5 trillion in funding, including funds for schools, hospitals, and roads in every community. The census helps determine how much money your school receives to reduce class size, support educators, help students with special needs, and offer free and reduced-price meals. Businesses rely on the census to inform where they might build a factory or open an office building or a grocery store.

Everyone counts in the census. There are no exceptions for age, height, race, citizenship status, or ZIP code. If people live in the country, drive on roads, drink water, or go to school – then they need to be counted. Everyone counts.

Why is the census so critical for students and educators in public schools?

Census data determine the distribution of more than $800 billion, including to programs that help our students. Some of those programs provide supports for children with special needs and those from low-income families.

These funds help schools reduce class sizes, hire specialists, continuously bolster teacher quality, offer preschool to low-income families, and ensure that hungry students can get breakfast or lunch to help them pay attention in class.

Census data are also critical to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which keeps millions of families out of poverty and has lasting benefits for children’s health and academic success.

More detail and material for download is available at www.nea.org/census.

Why it Matters

How does an inaccurate census happen, and how does it negatively affect our students?

When children and their families go uncounted, it is unlikely that their schools and communities will receive the resources needed to help support their success and well-being.

Young children are at high risk of not being counted, research shows. The Annie E. Casey Foundation notes that the 2010 census “missed 10 percent of children under the age of five”–that’s more than 2 million kids.

Why? Hard-to-count populations include some of our most vulnerable families: recent immigrants or English language learners; those without financial stability and stable housing; and children in shared custody arrangements, or those being raised by someone other than their parents. Children ages 0-5 are sometimes undercounted even in households where everyone else is counted accurately, simply because the adult filling out the form is unaware that babies and toddlers should be included.

“Job one is to do everything we can to support a complete and accurate census,” says NEA Senior Counsel Emma Leheny. “It’s the first step in understanding the needs of the next generation of school-age children.”

What can I do to help?

Talk to your family, coworkers, and friends about what is at stake for public schools in the census.

Also, check out the Census Bureau’s Statistics in Schools site, where you can learn more about the census, but also find lesson plans, maps, historical data, plus coloring pages, quizzes, word finds, and more.

Why it Matters

Why people are missed

The U.S. misses millions of people in every census. In 2010, one out of every ten children under five was missed. That’s over two million kids!

Populations that are hard to count include:

  • Recent immigrants or English language learners
  • People with less money or less stable housing, ranging from transient renters to homeless
  • People in alternative, temporary or overcrowded housing
  • Gated communities or apartment buildings with locked exterior doors
  • Racial and ethnic minorities
  • Mixed households, where children live with grandparents or aunts and uncles
  • College students and young mobile adults

Census Timeline

  • March 2020: Mailings go to households; the web portal opens.
  • April 2020: Multiple reminders to households; paper forms mailed
  • May-July 2020: Census “enumerators” knock on homes of people who haven’t yet responded.
  • July 31, 2020: Last day to be counted. The web portal closes and the knocks stop.