Preliminary 2020 US Census Work Starts This Month

February 15, 2018

The 2020 Census will be here before we know it, and local governments across Georgia are already preparing.


The U.S. government is required by the Constitution to take a count of the nation every ten years to determine how many seats each state gets in the US House of Representatives, with seats assigned on the basis of population. The census numbers help federal, state and local governments plan the collection and distribution of tax dollars for infrastructure, education, health, safety and other needs of the community.


The census is important at the city and county level, too. Local governments rely on accurate information on the size and makeup of their communities when applying for grants and loans, obtaining eligibility for housing programs and competing for transportation dollars.


The first step is the process is the Local Update of Census Address, or LUCA. This is the only opportunity before the 2020 Census for cities and counties to compare their residential address lists to those that the Census plans to use to count and survey the US population. The process of checking the addresses will begin in February and continue through spring 2018.


Some cities and counties in northwest Georgia will be carrying out the address check on their own, but many like Dade County and the City of Trenton are receiving assistance from the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission.


The process involves collecting residential address lists from local sources such as 911 records, tax records and utility bills. Any names and other identifiers are removed to comply with privacy requirements. These addresses are linked to a map, and then compared to the Census's record of addresses and map for that county or city using Geographic Information System (GIS) technology. This process is especially important in communities that have seen many new housing developments in the last ten years.


As required by law, the Census has established strict confidentiality and security guidelines to keep information private that would link a person to a particular address, as well as to prevent the misuse of address information. Potential penalties include fines of up to $250,000 or five years' imprisonment.


The address check process will continue into 2019, as the Census provides feedback on corrections that the local governments have submitted. Concerns over privacy and recent security breaches in government and commercial computer systems are a couple of the issues that Census Bureau faces in getting a good count in 2020. In addition, fewer people are interested in responding to surveys, and the media landscape bombards people constantly with input.


Many people have misconceptions about the purpose of the census. To counter these concerns, the Census Bureau will begin a communications campaign in 2019 to let people know the benefits of an accurate census count and to prepare them to participate. This campaign will engage diverse stakeholder groups and include a wide range of advertising techniques, social media and school programs.


The 2020 Census will be the first one in which the actual survey can be completed online at the Census's Bureau's website. The plan is to have the website survey available in March 2020 and to get many people to respond online because it is cost-effective. Those who do not fill out the online survey will be encouraged to complete mailed-out surveys.


Lastly, Census workers will go door to door, canvasing households face-to-face that have not mailed back surveys. The canvasing process should wrap up in summer 2020. Throughout this process the US Census Bureau is required by law to protect the privacy of all respondents.


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