About the Census

 "...an accurate count of the U.S. population forms the basis for many important but often overlooked political, economic, and social decisions that are made that end up affecting our daily lives."
-- C.N. Le, Professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Why It’s Important

The Decennial Census is essential to our state and our country, and it is important to get the count right! It must be accurate, valid, reliable and fair to support political balance, determine federal funding and to encourage economic development in North Carolina communities. Inaccurate counts paint a distorted picture of the make-up of our communities and will result in a misallocation of resources for North Carolina.


Our country’s representative democracy is based on Decennial Census data. The Census is used to determine the number of seats each state has in the US House of Representatives and it is used for redistricting at the national, state and local level.


Census data is used for allocation of $675 billion a year from large Census guided federal programs. 

  • North Carolina receives about $16 billion annually in federal funding from Census guided federal programs
  • A single missed person is almost equivalent to a forfeited $16,000 in funding for North Carolina over a 10 year period.

This is based on a per capita number of $1,623.00 provided by Counting for Dollars. There is not a straight linear relationship between state population count and federal funds flow. The per capita figure allows cross-state comparisons of fiscal reliance on census-guided programs. While we cannot say that each person counted in the census would increase federal program dollars to North Carolina by a certain amount, census results are of utmost importance to distributing federal funding — and doing so equitably and prudently.

   How does the Census Count Impact Federal Funding in North Carolina? 
Census Data is Used to Distribute $16.29 Billion Annually to North Carolina

Funding chart

HEALTH $10.624 Billion
TRANSPORTATION    $964 Million
EDUCATION $956 Million
HUMAN SERVICES $3.244 Billion
HOUSING $508 Million
TOTAL: $16.29 Billion


SOURCE: The George Washington University: Counting for Dollars 2020


Community Planning and Economic Development 

Census data is a necessary tool for community planning. It informs decision makers of the people who make up their communitites so that they can be effective in planning and placing services for growing and changing populations. Census data helps plan roads, schools, hospitals, senior centers, and emergency services in our communitites. 

Census data also assists businesses in locating corporate headquarters, factories and stores, in recruiting employees, and in conducting market research.

  • North Carolina is growing and becoming more diverse. As of 2016, it was the 12th fastest growing state in the country and the ninth most populous state in the country. Census data will be used to attract businesses to the state, and it will help North Carolina communities plan for growth.

Hard-to-Count Communities and Mail-in Participation Rates 

Achieving a complete and accurate count is not simple. An analysis of past Decennial Census participation rates can be helpful to communities in planning outreach to populations that may have previously had a low participation rate.

Participation Rates

In 2010 North Carolina ranked 16th in the country, alongside with Connecticut, Maryland Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Washington for 2010 Census mail participation with a 74 percent return rate. 


Hard-to-Count Communities

Historically, certain population groups, referred to as “hard-to-count” populations or communities, have not been fully counted and represented in the Census count. Several challenges can make a population hard-to-count and can contribute to an inaccurate Census, such as:

  • Lack of internet access when the Census is relying on self-response on the internet as the primary form of data collection for the 2020 Census
  • Concerns of confidentiality 
  • Distrust of government 
  • Misunderstanding of who should be counted in the Census 
  • Lack of stability in living arrangements 
  • Language barriers 

If these populations are miscounted, they risk losing funding and resources for their communities, and an opportunity for fair representation in government.

North Carolina’s Hard-to-Count Communities include:

  • Young children < age 6
  • Hispanic or Latinx individuals
  • Native Americans
  • Black or African Americans
  • Migrant populations
  • Renters

The City University of New York (CUNY) has developed a 2020 Census Hard-to-Count map to assist in targeting hard-to-count communities.


Census Timeline

July 2017 - June 2018

Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) Program for local governments

January 2019

Early Area Census Offices Open (these offices run the Address Canvasing Operation)

June 2019- August 2019

LUCA Feedback Operation (LUCA participants receive files showing how Census Bureau dispensed with proposed adds or changes)

Summer 2019- January 2020

LUCA Appeals Process: LUCA participants can appeal Census Bureau decisions on additions or corrections to their address list, within 45 days of receiving feedback materials

Fall 2019

Begin Dedicated Recruiting/Hiring for Temporary Census Workforce

Mid January 2020- July 2020

Census Questionnaire Assistance Telephone Assistance and Response Operations

March 23 2020

Self-Response Begins

April 2020

Early Non-Response Follow-up Begins (primarily areas around colleges/universities where the population leaves before early May)

Late August 2020- September 2020

Area Census Offices Begin to Close

January 2019- December 2019

Engage and Educate Local Leaders, Partners & Communities - Formation of Complete Count Committees

April 1, 2019

Day of Action, NC Counts Coalition (Check the NC Counts Coalition website for additional information)

Spring/Summer 2019

Recruit/Hire Temporary Address Listers for Targeted Address Canvasing Operation

August 2019- September 2019

Address Canvasing Operations (30% of country, high growth & change areas and not part of hand delivery)

February 2020- June 2020

Group Quarters Operations (Count of residents in shelters, dorms, nursing homes, transitory locations, prisons, military bases, RV parks etc. Local government & Census identify & plan these operations)

Mid March 2020

Residents Invited to Respond (All residents will have 3 options to self respond (internet, phone and paper))

April 1, 2020

Census Day (Reference date only)

May 2020

Non-Response Follow-Up Begins for Households That Do Not Self-Respond (Households can continue to self-respond)

December 31, 2020

Deliver Census Results to President

The 2020 Census: FAQs

What is the Decennial Census?

The Decennial Census is a federal program that counts every resident, regardless of age, national origin or citizenship, every 10 years. It is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. All responses to the Census are confidential.

Why do we have a Census?

The Census is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution. The primary purpose of the Census, as mandated in the Constitution, is to determine how seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned among the states.

How many seats does North Carolina currently hold in the House of Representatives?

13, but North Carolina is projected to gain an additional seat if is has a complete and accurate 2020 Census.

Who is counted in the Census?

Everyone. The Census counts everyone living in the United States, regardless or citizenship status or age. Even the baby born on April 1, 2020 should be counted in the Census.

How is the Census taken?

The 2020 Census will be the first Decennial Census where people will be counted over the internet. The U.S. Census Bureaus wants to optimize self-response rates and encourage residents to take the Census online. Households will also be able to respond via the traditional census taking methods, the telephone and paper forms.

What is an Enumerator?

A census taker. A person who is employed to take a count of the population.

Is the information taken by the Census private?

Yes. By law (13 U.S. Code § 9), information gathered from the Census is 100% confidential and cannot be shared with any other government agency. Census takers (Enumerators) take an oath to protect the privacy of the information collected and can face jail time and heavy fines if they violate that oath.

Why should I care about the Census?

Even though the primary purpose of the Census, as mandated in the Constitution, it to take a count of the population to determine U.S. congressional apportionment, Census data is also used by the government in a variety of important decisions. For example, the U.S. government allocates about $400 billion in federal funds each year based on Census information; currently North Carolina receives about $16.29 billion of these funds, which is allocated for health care, housing, transportation, education and human services. Also, local governments utilize Census information to determine community planning (where roads, schools, hospitals, etc. will be built). Census information can also support a strong economy; corporations and businesses look at demographics of communities to determine where they will locate headquarters, factories and workplaces.

Why are we talking about the Census now?

The 2020 Census is vitally important to North Carolina. At stake is federal funding, representation in congress and our economy, we cannot risk an inaccurate count. There are several challenges facing the 2020 Census, and we must be proactive in ensuring that North Carolina has a complete and accurate count. The Census only takes place every ten years, so it is important to get it right!

What are the challenges to achieving a complete and accurate 2020 Census Count for North Carolina?

1. Inadequate Federal Funding

Congress wants the U.S. Census Bureau to hold the costs of the 2020 Census at the same level as the 2010 Census. A government accountability office study shows that the budget should be about twice that amount.

There are several factors that play into the cost of the Census, including:

  • Increased population diversity
  • Declining Census self-response rates
  • Technical, administrative and management challenges

2. There are Hard-to-Count Communities, which historically has resulted in an undercount in the Census.

Hard-to-Count Communities are groups who are more likely to not be counted by the Census than other Americans. Historically, marginalized communities are at a greater risk of being undercounted.

North Carolina’s Hard-to-Count Communities include:

  • Young children < age 6
  • Hispanic or Latinx individuals
  • Native Americans
  • Black or African Americans
  • Migrant populations
  • Renters

Accuracy has always been a hurdle with Hard-to-Count Communities. These Communities are often reluctant to respond to the Census because of concerns and fears of the confidentiality of the information collected and how that information will be used.

3. Digital Divide

The U.S. Census Bureau is rolling back door-to-door canvassing and focusing more on internet-based responses. This will affect obtaining an accurate count of communities that do not have internet access.

According to Broadband Now, 151,000 people in North Carolina do not have any wired internet providers available where they live.