The Constitution mandates a count of the U.S. population every ten years. The census questionnaire asks how many people live in each household and gathers basic demographic data about each of them, to be used in the aggregate. Census data is crucial for fairly apportioning money and representation for the entire decade ahead.

According to the Census Bureau, “Every year, billions of dollars in federal funding go to hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads, and other resources based on census data. The results of the census also determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives, and they are used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.”

An undercount of your area leaves dollars and power on the table. Submit your household’s data at before the September 30 deadline.

Census FAQ

The census counts individuals of every age and nationality for an accurate tally. To complete the questionnaire, you must be age 18 or older. You do not need to be a citizen

Per the Census Bureau, “Our nation gets just one chance each decade to count its population. The U.S. census counts every resident in the United States.”

The census asks where a person “lives and sleeps most of the time.” For students who mostly lived on or near campus this year, the answer is your at-school address, not your parents’ home.

This holds true even during the pandemic. As the Census Bureau spells out, “Even if you are away from your student housing due to your school being temporarily closed due to [the coronavirus], you will be counted at the student housing where you usually live.”

Don’t let this spring’s disruption block the bigger picture. This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to create an accurate snapshot of the normal year-round population of this area.

If you are a student who lived in an on-campus Emory residence for most of this year, Emory Housing will work with the Census Bureau to ensure you are counted. You don’t need to take action yourself.

All others—off-campus undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and faculty—are responsible for filling out the census questionnaire themselves, one reply per household.

By now each off-campus address should have received a mailing from the Census Bureau inviting you to respond. One adult per household should reply on behalf of everyone who lives or until recently lived there. Among roommates, pick a token head of household to fill out the questionnaire for all.

You can answer online, by phone, on paper, or in person. For the online option, go to To get started, enter the code from the Census Bureau mailer, or if you don’t have it on hand you can enter your street address. From there the process takes just 5–10 minutes.

The census collects basic demographic information about each person living at your address, including name, date of birth, gender, race, and relationship to the head of household, as well as the type of residence and whether you own it or rent. 

If the multiple choice answers for the race question do not represent you, you can fill in a blank. For the gender question, just two options are offered: female and male. This data is not compared against any other database, so your answer doesn’t have to match the gender on other government documents.

The census will not ask about citizenship status. It will also not ask about religion, income, your mother’s maiden name, or your full social security number. It will not ask for money.

Read more about the questions on the census.

International students living in the United States should follow the appropriate guidance for their housing situation. College students who are living outside the United States while attending college on April 1, 2020 are not counted in the census.

The Census Bureau says: “Your response is required by law. If you do not respond, the U.S. Census Bureau will follow up in person to collect your response….While you are required by law to participate, the Census Bureau is also required by law to protect your answers. Your responses are used only to produce statistics. The Census Bureau does not disclose any personal information.”

A piece from WABE 90.1 FM fleshes out that point: “Federal law prohibits the Census Bureau from publicly sharing information that identifies individuals until 72 years after the data was collected. The bureau also cannot share information with agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the FBI or the IRS. However, the bureau can share demographic information about groups down to the neighborhood level.”

The nonpartisan organization Nonprofit VOTE adds: “The Census Bureau is bound by Title 13 of the U.S. Code to keep identifiable information confidential. Under Title 13, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home, or your business, even to law enforcement agencies. Census workers take a lifetime oath to protect the privacy of respondents and face jail time or heavy fines if they violate that oath.”

Hard-to-count groups include mobile young adults, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, renters, young children, non-English speakers, undocumented immigrants, low-income people, the transient, and those with disabilities.

An interactive map from the CUNY (City University of New York) Mapping Service shows response rates for census tracts across the country. As of mid-September, Georgia had one of the lowest state response rates at around 85 percent.

In addition to filling out your own census, check with your relatives to make sure they have answered theirs, too. If they are not native English speakers, let them know the questionnaire is available in several other languages, and citizenship is neither required nor asked about.

It’s The number of U.S. House seats per state, the amount of funding for aid and social programs, the drawing of district lines for the next ten years—these all rely on accurate population counts. So be counted.

As a volunteer: Look for local civic engagement nonprofit organizations that are reaching out to easily undercounted communities to encourage participation.

For pay: The Census Bureau says its field operation, originally scheduled to start in April, may be delayed due to the coronavirus. Nevertheless, the bureau is still hiring for some positions.

There’s more on the importance of the census from the organization Census Counts. Atlanta NPR affiliate WABE overviewed the ins and outs of the census from a Georgia angle last fall. A conversation from Georgia Public Broadcasting emphasizes how much money each response earns the state. The AJC points out the census’s importance for genealogists.

From the Census Bureau itself: