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What you need to know about the 2020 census

Editor's Note: The 2020 census began in January in remote sections of Alaska, before rolling out nationwide this week.

This week, the United States Census Department rolls out their 2020 census nationwide, aiming to count everyone living in the country and the U.S. territories. The findings will determine how federal dollars are distributed. Hansi Lo Wang, a national correspondent for NPR, has been reporting on the 2020 census and joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss what to expect.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This week begins the 2020 census, an aim to count everyone living in the country and the U.S. territories. The findings will determine how federal dollars are distributed. Hansi Lo Wang a national correspondent for NPR has been reporting on the 2020 census. We sat down recently to discuss what to expect, including what's new this time around.

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    It's a basic set of questions that's could ask you where you live. Confirming her address, all the people living in your home, their age, birth date, phone number that someone can be reached at, race, ethnicity and the relationship that people between people living in the same home as well as whether the home is rented or owned. Some of the changes are in the race question. If you mark off the white and/or the black box, to answer the race question, for the first time the Census Bureau is going to ask within the context of race what your origins are. And those are non-Hispanic origins. They provide examples such as English or French or Jamaican or Nigerian, for example, asking them to write those in and under the relationship question describing how people within the same household are related. There's going to be new categories that specify 'same sex' and what the bureau is calling 'opposite sex': spouse, wife, husband, partner. That's the first time the Census Bureau is asking for people to identify their sexual orientation directly in the context of this relationship question.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    OK, so there is not a citizenship question in this census. Is there another way are there other ways that the government is going to come up with some sort of an estimate on that data?

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    The government's going to try. President Trump issued an executive order once he announced that the administration was no longer pushing for this citizenship question that federal courts have now permanently blocked from being added to the 2020 census forms. And so the Census Bureau has been working to try to compile existing government records from various federal agencies, the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, as well as some state DMV offices and trying to come up with a data set that would represent the citizenship status of every person living in the country.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And sort of very basic. But this is not happening on Facebook. There were campaign ads from the Trump administration earlier this week, I think, that Facebook decided to take off. But this is not going to be through Facebook. This isn't gonna be through an email. This is gonna be something that going to have to go to this one and only website to fill out. Correct?

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    That's right. The official 2020 census online form is a website. It's not an app. It's My2020census.gov, you can access it, the Census Bureau says, from any web browser. And those ads from the Trump administration's, Trump reelection campaign, rather, those were ads directing to a survey that was calling itself some type of, quote, official census. But it was not the official census.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So what happens for people who don't understand the process? What happens when a census taker knocks on the door and there's nobody home? How do we get information on who lives in this community?

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    Well, these census workers are not going to go out until around mid-May. So the next few months, everyone's on their own. China bureau hopes you self-respond. But starting in mid-May and into the summer, households that haven't responded by then, the census worker is going to try and knock on that door multiple times. And also, if if ultimately, census workers can't find someone at their home, they may ask neighbors, landlords, other, what the Census Bureau calls proxies to try to help understand who is actually living in that home. Also going to use for the first time more extensive use of existing government records to try to fill in those gaps.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    This is happening, about five hundred thousand temps are required to do all that knocking. And this is happening in the context of a coronavirus scare which is going through the country. Any possibilities that that could impact how the results come out?

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    It's something I'm watching right now. And five hundred thousand workers is what the bureau is expecting to need if the response rate, actually self-response rate, is even lower than 60 percent. About fifty five percent. And those, that's of households they're expecting to self respond. And so it's a big question if the Census Bureau, right now, it's supposed to be ramping up hiring. It's recruited more than 2 million applicants. And now starting to offer positions to these applicants to see if anyone will take them and go through training over the next few months and to be deployed in May. We'll see how that turns out.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    How do we count homeless people?

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    It's a complicated process. And towards the end of March this month, the Census Bureau is going to do two different things. One is going to visit shelters, which they've contacted so far, and transitional homes, for example, and try to figure out a way working with those shelters for figure out the best way to count the residents for the people who use those facilities that could be sending a census worker to do in-person interviews. It could be distributing paper forms and then collecting them at the end. And then certainly there are folks who are living not in shelters, living on the streets. And the Census Bureau does have a one day count around April 1st. And when they're going to visit places where they're more likely to find folks who are homeless. And tried to do a count there.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And really kind of the bottom line of this is that this is very consequential for how communities get money from the federal government and how we really think about lots of other things that have big consequences going forward the next 10 years.

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    One way to think about the census: it's a way for every person living in the United States of America to express power. The Constitution, Article 1, Section 2 is calling for an actual numeration, actual counting of every person living in the country. And those numbers determine how many congressional seats, Electoral College votes each state gets. And it guides more than 1.5 trillion dollars a year for Medicare, Medicaid, roads and schools. And it's all dependent upon how many people are living in the country.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Hansi Lo Wang. Thanks so much.

  • Hansi Lo Wang:

    You're welcome.

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