The census is counting on you. Don’t let them down.

fill out your census online
You can fill out your Census 2020 questionnaire online, on paper or over the phone.

This week marked the kickoff of the census, the decennial counting of humans aged zero to however-old-the-oldest-person-is.

Here’s what you need to know:

What to expect

The first of potentially several rounds of mailers will start showing up in mailboxes this week. These mailers will be addressed “to residents” because the census questionnaire is tied to physical locations and the people who reside in those places.

census bureau map
Purple areas will receive invitations to complete the census online. Green areas will receive paper questionnaires immediately, as they have been designated as areas where low internet response is expected. (Credit: U.S. Census Bureau)

The census is calling the first of its mailers “an invitation.” For most homes in the state — 78% — the mailer will provide information on how to fill out the census questionnaire online. The other 22% of residences have been classified as being in places where low rates of internet responses are expected. Those homes will get the paper questionnaire immediately, though they will still have the option of filling it out online if they choose.

If you fail to complete the census in a timely manner, you will get several rounds of follow-up postcards or letters.

If you fail to complete the census by May, you can expect census workers to start showing up at your door. Census workers are scheduled to knock on doors during the days, evenings and weekends.

Once you complete the census, you’ll be left alone.

Where to go

2020Census.gov or My2020Census.gov. Both go to the same place, so use whichever URL you prefer. The website asks you for the unique identifier sent to your home in the mail.

Why the Census matters

“People always ask: Why is it important to me? The reason changes for every person,” explains Misty Slater, a spokesperson with the Census Bureau. “This is the one thing that is important to all of us. We all want federal funding to make our communities better, and this is the way to do it.”

Slater uses education and roadways as two examples. Parents concerned about overcrowding at their children’s schools should know census data is what districts use to plan for new schools. (That’s one of the reasons the 0 to 5 age range is especially important to capture.) Drivers annoyed with potholes in their roadways should know that federal infrastructure dollars trickle down to the local level based off the population data collected by the census.

And anyone concerned with natural disasters should know that census data is used during emergency and recovery efforts. Not only does it capture the number of people in affected areas, but the information on languages spoken indicate what resources need to be available.

Census data is also used for political redistricting. Nevada isn’t expected to gain or lose any U.S. Congressional seats, but changing demographics — particularly the growth of the state’s urban areas — could impact local and state election districts.

“It touches everything,” adds Slater.

Well, not everything…

census form
What the paper census looks like.

Census data is protected by law. The information you provide cannot be used against you by local law enforcement, immigration officials or anyone else. There is no citizenship question on the 2020 census.

Census workers who have access to personal information take a lifetime oath saying they will not give out any personal info. If they do, they are subject to a $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison for every offense.

Outreach efforts

Nevada has poured upwards of $5 million into outreach efforts to try and ensure a complete count of residents. While that figure might seem high, they expect a high return on investment. It’s estimated every person counted by the census brings $20,000 in federal funding to the state.

In light of Covid-19 and widespread cancellation of community gatherings across the country, some of the grassroots outreach efforts are in jeopardy and will need to be rethought. At least one kickoff event scheduled for Wednesday was canceled.

However, Slater says expectations are still high that Nevada — considered one of the hardest-to-count states — can get a complete count.

“It’s easier than ever to fill out,” says Slater. “We’re hoping that helps.”

In a statement issued Wednesday, the Census Bureau said it had created an internal task force to monitor Covid-19 but that it was prepared to adapt to situations as necessary: “In short, where a community, facility or service organization makes a change that would affect any field operation, we will adapt to make sure we are getting the same population counted another way.”

Behind-the-scenes

According to Slater, more than 12,000 applications were received at the Las Vegas office, which will oversee census responses in Clark County, and more than 13,000 applications were submitted for the North Las Vegas office, which will oversee the responses for the rest of the state.

Somewhere between 1,400 and 2,200 employees are expected to be hired by each office in the upcoming weeks.

 

April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. April currently serves on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists Las Vegas pro chapter. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and three mutts.