The 2020 Census Series: Decennial Census Timeline and Census Bureau Tools

March 12, 2020

Note: This is the second in a series of five The Valued Voice articles about the U.S. Census and why it’s important for health care. The first article in the series can be found here.
This week:  Census Basics: Decennial Census Timeline and Census Bureau Tools
March 19:  How Census Bureau Data is used in federal health care program funding
March 26:  Hard-to-count areas in Wisconsin and how to encourage census participation
April 2:  Have you responded to the Census yet?
This week, the U.S. Census Bureau will start sending census information to U.S. households in anticipation of Census Day, April 1. Here is a timeline of key decennial census dates:
  • March 12 - 20: Households will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone, or by mail.
  • March 30 - April 1: The Census Bureau will count people who are experiencing homelessness over these three days. As part of this process, the Census Bureau counts people in shelters, at soup kitchens and mobile food vans, on the streets, and at non-sheltered, outdoor locations such as tent encampments.
  • April 1: Census Day is observed nationwide. Once the invitation arrives, you should respond for your home in one of three ways: online, by phone, or by mail. When you respond to the census, you'll tell the Census Bureau where you live as of April 1, 2020.
  • Starting in April: Census takers will begin visiting college students who live on campus, people living in senior centers, and others who live among large groups of people. Census takers will also begin following up with households that have not yet responded in areas that include off-campus housing, where residents are not counted in groups. Not everyone will be visited by a census taker. 
  • May - July: Census takers will begin visiting homes that haven't responded to the 2020 Census to help make sure everyone is counted.
  • December: The Census Bureau will deliver apportionment counts to the President and Congress as required by law.
  • March 2021:  The Census Bureau will send redistricting counts to states. This information is used to redraw legislative districts based on population changes.
Most people will receive the “short form” census, via email or regular U.S. mail. Looking at the short form, you may wonder: how can these few pieces of information be used to allocate over $700 billion of federal funding? How can a questionnaire with no health-related questions be used to allocate Medicaid and other health care funding? The answer is, while the decennial census is a foundational tool for the census bureau, other key tools are used in between census years to gather additional data relevant to various federal programs.
The major data gathering tool used by the U.S. Census Bureau in addition to the decennial census is the American Community Survey (ACS). The sample selection for the ACS is taken from the decennial census. The ACS is considered a part of the decennial census. Prior to the 2000 decennial census, the census was issued in both “short” and “long” forms. Only a small subset of households received the long form. As of the 2000 census, the long form was eliminated, and the ACS took its place. The ACS includes not only the basic short-form census questions about age, sex, race, Hispanic origin, household relationship, and owner/renter status, but also detailed questions about population and housing characteristics. It is a nationwide, continuous survey designed to provide communities with reliable and timely social, economic, housing, and demographic data. The ACS is conducted monthly, and each year, the ACS is sent to approximately one in 38 U.S. households.
Another major tool derived from the decennial census is the Current Population Survey (CPS). This survey is derived from the decennial census and the ACS. The Current Population Survey (CPS) issued jointly by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is conducted monthly. It is the primary source of monthly labor force statistics but also collects data via supplemental questions on the monthly basic questions. The supplemental inquiries vary month to month and cover a wide variety of topics such as child support, volunteerism, health insurance coverage, and school enrollment. 
Next week, The Valued Voice will explore how these survey tools provide key information for federally-funded health care programs and how these funds are distributed across the nation. For questions regarding the U.S. Census and health care, contact WHA Vice President of Policy Laura Rose.  

This story originally appeared in the March 12, 2020 edition of WHA Newsletter