The turn of a decade. An election year. 2020 is significant for many reasons, and it's also time for the US government to conduct its decennial (that is, every 10 years) census. The nationwide survey is an attempt to better understand all the people that live within the country's borders, and this year marks the first time it's available online. With everyone's minds preoccupied by the global pandemic and the related anxiety and uncertainty, though, filling out a form is far from being a priority. But this is a task that must be done.
The census is constitutionally mandated -- your participation is required by law whether or not you're a citizen. It's conducted by the US Census Bureau and asks questions about your household and demographics. The results of the count will have a major impact on jurisdiction and resource allocation in the country. This year, you can answer questions over the phone or online, which makes it easier for the bureau to still get a lot of data in spite of the global pandemic.
Why is it important this year?
Getting comprehensive, accurate information about people in the nation will create a more complete representation of the US population. Where do more people live? What are the things that certain communities or regions need? Understanding this will help the country's decision makers determine how to allocate resources. For example, it determines which neighborhoods are growing and therefore in need of more education funding.
Census results also have major implications in politics as they help determine the number of seats each state will get in the House of Representatives. They're used to draw congressional and state legislative districts, too.
But with people staying home to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it's possible many will forget to complete this year's census. Not everyone has access to a phone or computer, either, which could skew the results. And unlike in years past, the pandemic also means that door to door census takers can't follow up with non-responders.
How do I do it online?
Go to the Census 2020 website and fill out the questionnaire. In light of the pandemic, the bureau has shifted the deadline for the self-response phase to August 14th, so add a calendar reminder for before that. Make sure you have time to sit and finish the survey, as you won't be able to save your answers and return to it later. It shouldn't take longer than 10 minutes, depending on the number of people in your household. You can also go to the website on your phone -- the experience is pretty much the same and the form loads quickly.
The website will ask for your ID, which you can find in the invitation you should have received by March 20th. Don't have one? Since the census has gone online, you can complete the survey without an ID, by clicking the link under the login button that reads "If you do not have a Census ID, click here." This works even if you're not a citizen -- the main function of entering the code is to pre-populate the form with the address associated with the ID.
If you're answering without a code, you'll need to input your address before getting to the questions proper. Once you're done, you'll get a confirmation number that you should save or print just in case you need it for future reference.
For those with access to a computer and reliable internet, taking the census is a quick, easy task that will contribute to a greater, meaningful goal. It'll also provide a brief distraction from the depressing news cycle at the moment, so encourage your friends who live in the US to fill it out, too.
Update (on March 26th, 2020 at 1:25pm ET): Inline image was changed to one that does not show a questionnaire appearing to ask about citizenship.