Next Steps on the Census

Librarians can help dispel misinformation to ensure a fair count

August 1, 2019

2020 Census (Image: Rebecca Lomax/American Libraries)
Image: Rebecca Lomax/American Libraries

The White House announced on July 11 that it would abandon efforts to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 Census, removing a major distraction from preparations for this constitutionally mandated head count. But the achievement is only one milestone in advocates’ work to support a complete count.

The Supreme Court had ruled against the administration’s addition of the question on June 27 and sent the issue back to lower courts. The July 11 announcement brought a final close to the debate for 2020. This was a big win for all advocates for a fair, inclusive, and accurate decennial census, including the American Library Association (ALA).

Research indicated that adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census would likely suppress and distort responses, leaving many residents uncounted and reducing the quality of the data. While the administration still plans to gather information about the citizenship of US residents, the data will be compiled from existing government records, rather than asked on the census questionnaire. Statistical data—like census responses themselves—by law can be used only for statistical purposes. Individual information will remain confidential.

What’s next

Ensuring that people have accurate information about the 2020 Census will be critical in the wake of concerns about a possible citizenship question. Library staffers and other trusted voices in our communities can help make sure people know:

  • The 2020 Census will not ask respondents about their citizenship.
  • Filling out the census form is important and safe. A complete count is vital to ensuring political representation, and federal funding is properly allocated based on all the people who live in our cities and towns. Communities that are undercounted are disadvantaged both economically and politically.
  • US law provides strong confidentiality protections and safeguards for census responses. The law prohibits the US Census Bureau from sharing personal census responses with any other government agency, court of law, or private entity for any purpose, including law enforcement. Census Bureau staff who have access to personal information are sworn for life to protect confidentiality. They are subject to a $250,000 fine and/or up to five years in federal prison for wrongful disclosure of information.
  • The Census Bureau will never ask for a bank or credit card number, Social Security number, a payment, or donation. People can check if they have questions about mail, email, phone calls, or visits that claim to come from the Census Bureau.

In addition to fighting misinformation, disinformation, and scams, there are other steps library leaders can take now to make sure everyone counts (and is counted).

  • Participate in and coordinate with state and local Complete Count Committees. These volunteer committees are established by tribal, state, and local governments, as well as community leaders, to increase awareness and encourage residents to respond to the 2020 Census. The committees will also have information about any funding opportunities or promotional materials available to support census outreach.
  • Help community members apply for census jobs. The Census Bureau will hire about 500,000 temporary workers, including census takers, office staff, and supervisory staff. The census job site provides information about job opportunities, pay rates, and the online application.

To learn more, read ALA’s Libraries’ Guide to the 2020 Census, and find additional resources at


Making It Count

Librarians get ready for the 2020 Census