U.S. 2020 Census Will Be Done by Internet

iCensus2020Technology is replacing a lot of things: landline phones, television armoires, pocket pagers, election paper ballots, and now paper census forms. The U.S. Census Bureau expects to use the Internet — plus smart phones and perhaps some other technologies yet to be invented — for the next decennial census, in 2020. Welcome to iCensus2020!

The primary reason for the change is to save money. The 2010 Census cost taxpayers $96 per household, including the American Community Survey that has now replaced the old long form. The cost of taking the census has more than doubled in two decades, up from $70 per household in 2000 and $39 as recently as 1990. The 2020 Census undoubtedly would cost more if it relied on paper forms.

Census2020The savings are potentially huge, said Frank Vitrano, associate director for the 2020 Census. “It reduces the cost of printing, the cost of postage and the cost of data capture off paper forms,” he said. “And we see it as more convenient for the public.” Vitrano said other cost-cutting options also are being studied for the 2020 count.

While the decision to move to online census forms has been made, millions of details have yet to be worked out. Final plans are expected to be completed in 2017 or 2018. While the overwhelming majority of Americans now have access to the Internet, manual methods will still be used for the minority who do not have or do not know how to use Internet-based data collection.

The current version of the Census 2020 Operational Plan may be downloaded from http://goo.gl/0cd8cT.


Internet collection of the 2020 census has a lot of pluses. But I see some issues with doing it that way. One is fraud, which you deal with in a separate article. Another is that I suspect many more people than the Census Bureau is considering don’t have *realistic* access to the Internet. I live in a retirement home, for instance, with about 500 residents. Lots of us are very familiar with the Internet. And there are plenty of public computers available. But there are also, at a wild guess, probably 10% who can’t use the computer at all. We have a fair number of centenarians, my mother among them, who never used computers. Some of the current centenarians may not be with us in 2020. But their places will be taken by a larger group of those now in their 90s, who also aren’t using computers and won’t/can’t learn for the purpose of filling in the census. Their responses are important too.

There’s also the issue of those who would need help answering the questions, on paper or on the Internet. Such people are more likely to get that help if they live in an institution like this where staff know who’s likely to need help, than if they live in the community. What plans does the Census Bureau have to make sure people who need help get it, either from family members or caregivers? And will the form have a “question” to indicate who in fact filled it out, and what their relationship is to the “head of the household?”


again the very poor and the impaired will not be properly served… this population has consistently been ignored….. which is going to skew the numbers. At least when there was a human to knock on the door, these folks stood a chance of being enumerated. Also I am curious as to how they plane to deal with the homeless, a problem that is increasing, not going away.


    —> At least when there was a human to knock on the door, these folks stood a chance of being enumerated.

    In 2020, whenever someone does not fill out the online census questionnaire, they will later receive a knock on the door from a human who is standing there with a paper questionnaire. As stated in the article, “While the overwhelming majority of Americans now have access to the Internet, manual methods will still be used for the minority who do not have or do not know how to use Internet-based data collection.” That was done in 2010 and earlier censuses when forms were filled out at home and were mailed in. The same process will continue in 2020 when forms are sent in electronically.


    Living in an area that has a big homeless problem after having been hit by the recession, the forclosure epidemic, and then two big natural disasters, I am very concerned with how the census will handle the problem of homelessness. They certainly ought to be able to “geolocate” people who are living in shelters, but we have people living in automobiles, tents and huts in the woods, including many veterans of the Gulf War and the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. All of them are citizens who deserve equal representation in Congress and in state and local legislatures along with those of us who are more fortunate. Furthermore, the communities where they live need equal access to public resources doled out based on population in order to provide the kind of services that will help them get back on their feet.


Canada’s 2011 census had an online option, but one could still use paper if one wished. Our next census in six months or so will offer online completion as well.



I worked on 2010 Census for almost a year, supervising up to 600 people in six counties who did the count for group situations: hospitals, county jails, state prisons, group homes, retirement homes, hospices, juvenile facilities. It will be interesting to see how this is handled by computer.


Wow. I look for fireworks when the census is automated. Massive software projects don’t always work well on the first try even when done in-house by pros. (Windows 8, etc.) It’s worse in government where not a line of code is written by an employee. A turnkey contract is let (usually to someone’s cousin) with massive but blurry specs. When things go wrong there’s always an argument over the specs, the contractor gets richer and/or fired. It never works originally – think gov’t medical insurance which took forever to straighten out.

I suspect the 2020 census will be late and full of bugs but finally good enough for reapportionment but not necessarily genealogy. The good news is that 2030 will be better and we (you) can look back with satisfaction.


There is always some confusion with an undertaking of this magnitude. As a teen I knew most of the farmers and the people in two small towns, in two adjacent Town Ships in Minnesota. Now working on my Family Trees, find many errors where some children are not listed, a few families missed completely and found one great uncle who was counted three times: 1)at his parents home in town on the census (by first name initial and Last name), 2) at neighbor down the road and 3) in the other adjacent Town Ship, again as a farm hand. He was working out as a farm hand and in many cases they would be at one home for a week or so and than work down the road for a few days. Overall they will get the vast majority correctly recorded and counted.


I sure hope content useful to genealogists is more inclusive than 2010.


Having sat at the wrong end of several large scale schemes that were conceived by the bean counters and written by the IT guys, I think that the main problem is thinking ‘This can’t possibly happen’ or ‘There can’t be anyone who this could possibly apply to’, and then designing accordingly. They never ask the guys who sit day in/day out actually doing the job.
There are few, if any, scheme introduced ( and often with a big fanfare ) that work without glitches. By then the IT guys have lost interest and the bean counters are looking for the cost savings.
Nobody seems to want a basic scheme that can be enhanced incrementally. Where’s the glamour in that ?
Me ?? A cynic ??. KISS is what I say (Keep It Simple Stupid).


Census seems to be deliberately collecting less useful info for any purpose, and with all its inaccuracy, not including the very people for whom the government needs to plan. Why?


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