Census 2020

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    Census 2020

    With nearly a trillion dollars in federal funding being apportioned each year based on Census results, an accurate, complete count is crucial to county governments and their residents. Funding for health care, economic development, infrastructure, education and other critical county responsibilities are all informed by Census results. County governments must be prepared to navigate challenges in achieving a complete Census count in 2020, including concerns about data security, the impacts of moving to an online form for populations without adequate internet and technology access and shifting timelines and strategies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “As local county elected leaders, I cannot stress enough how the 2020 Census is more important than ever. Billions of dollars of federal funding for roads, schools, small businesses, hospitals and emergency response is at stake.”

    – Cook County, Ill. Commissioner Stanley Moore Chairman of the Complete Count Census Commission and co-chair of NACo’s Census 2020 Working Group

    Since early 2019, many counties around the country have been hard at work preparing for the 2020 Census by organizing local Complete Count Committees, coordinating with other governmental partners, and developing relationships with community organizations. No county government or Complete Count Committee, however, could have known to prepare for a global pandemic that would halt Census field operations, restrict public gatherings and, for a time, place most of the country under stay at home orders. As counties face significant challenges for economic recovery and the potential for future surges in coronavirus cases, the importance of the Census and its impact on county governments has never been more evident. Below you can find county-focused resources for the Census rollout, including federal guidelines, up to date analyses and examples of counties using innovative strategies to ensure an accurate count.


    Research and Data

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    Census Bureau Guidance​

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    Census 2020 Working Group

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    County Examples

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    Additional Resources from NACo

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    Research and Data

    NACo’s County Explorer map provides real-time data for self-response rates across the nation’s 3,069 counties. As of September 30, 31.7 percent of counties are above the national average of 66.5% in census completion rates. 

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    Census Bureau Guidance

    Update: On October 13, 2020, U.S. Census Bureau Statement the self-response and field data collection operations for the 2020 Census will conclude on October 15, 2020.

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    Update: On October 2, 2020, U.S. Census Bureau Statement on Oct. 1 Court Ruling

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    Update: As of September 25, 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau will comply with the Court’s order and continue our Nonresponse Follow-up Operation (NRFU). Field staff have been instructed to continue with current operations until updates can be provided.

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    Update: On September 5, 2020, U.S. Census Bureau field leadership notified regional and area census office leaders of a temporary restraining order (in the case of National Urban League v. Ross, No. 20-05799) that requires the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department not alter Census field operations to comply with the August 3 change in deadline moving data collection from October 31 to September 30 until the Court conducts its September 17 hearing on Plaintiffs’ PI motion.

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    COVID-19 Delays 2020 Census Response Collection and Timeline

    The 2020 Census self-response period – when households across America would complete the Census online, via mail or via phone – was originally scheduled to run from March 12 to July 31. Just six days into the self-response period, as 140 million households nationwide began receiving initial invitations to complete the Census, the Census Bureau suspended all field operations in response to the burgeoning outbreak. The deadline was shifted to April 1 and then again through April 15, during which time Census Bureau field offices were supposed to be at “peak operations,” hiring and training staff and planning for following up with non-responders.

    As the novel coronavirus outbreak escalated into a pandemic, the 2020 Census operational timeline continued to shift. On August 3, the Census Bureau announced an updated operational timeline, including the following key changes:

    • Data collection will end on September 30
    • Self-response options will also close on September 30 to permit the commencement of data processing

    The shift in timeline coincides with a phased restart of field operations, including hiring non-response field staff and resuming the update leave process starting the week of May 4. As of June 5, more than 90 percent of field operations staff have returned to work.

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    Census 2020 Working Group

    “As local county elected leaders, I cannot stress enough how the 2020 Census is more important than ever,” said Cook County (Ill.) Commissioner Stanley Moore, Chairman of the Complete Count Census Commission and Co-Chair of NACo’s Census 2020 Working Group. “Billions of dollars of federal funding for roads, schools, small businesses, hospitals and emergency response is at stake. If we don’t have a complete and accurate count, each of our counties are witnessing first-hand how the impact of the Census data has influenced the federal government’s distribution of financial and emergency management resources to our areas to address the COVID-19 pandemic.”

    NACo formed a working group to support local efforts to ensure that the 2020 Census reflects each county’s full population. The bipartisan working group, comprised of NACo members representing rural, suburban and urban areas, will highlight the importance of county leadership on census outreach. It will also strategically advise NACo and counties nationwide on effective approaches to ensuring that every resident is counted. 



    • Hon. Jason Brinkley, Judge, Cooke County, Texas                     
    • Hon. Stanley Moore, Commissioner, Cook County, Ill.


    • Hon. Lena Fowler, Supervisor, Coconino County, Ariz.
    • Hon. George Murdock, Commissioner, Umatilla County, Ore.
    • Hon. Ilene Shapiro, Executive, Summit County, Ohio
    • Hon. John Wilson, Assessor, King County, Wash.

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    County Examples

    The COVID-19 pandemic has had similar impacts on county-led Census efforts regardless of size, type or region. As a result of the outbreak, county leaders’ focus abruptly and comprehensively shifted to pandemic response efforts. Previously developed outreach strategies became less relevant as in-person events were cancelled and the capacity of key partners like school districts and libraries have been severely limited.  To overcome these challenges, counties and their partners have responded with a variety of creative solutions to further outreach in hard to count communities, develop messaging to communicate the importance of the Census, and provide access to complete the Census online. Several themes emerged:

    • “Meet at the moment”: Promoting Census messages at locations that have seen increased demand as a result of the pandemic

    • Using inexpensive, “low tech” tactics that can be implemented by community-based organizations, who remain trusted messengers among hard to count communities

    • Developing public messaging that directly connects the pandemic response and its impact on daily life to the importance of the Census

    • Increased emphasis toward video, digital, and online marketing and outreach campaigns
      Maximizing internet access points in communities with lower rates of broadband access

    • County-City collaboration and partnership in Census planning and outreach


    Desoto County, Miss.

    Creative partnerships with local business and nonprofits can be valuable in assisting counties in advancing Census engagement and outreach, particularly in low-response areas.  DeSoto County, Miss. collaborated with local business Buff City Soap and a local food bank to ramp up messaging by adding a Census information banner to donated soap given away at the food bank. "When businesses step up and join forces with the county, the partnerships can make a lasting impact. Buff City Soap opened less than a year ago and it’s wonderful how they are reaching out to give back to the community." – DeSoto County Supervisor Lee Caldwell.

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    Carroll County, Md.

    Because of COVID-19 restrictions and quarantining, parks and other green spaces became increasingly popular as safe leisure destinations. Carroll County, Md. utilized this by targeting popular parks in historically hard-to-count neighborhoods for Census outreach.  Further, Carroll County partnered with a local ice cream truck to provide free ice cream to children in parks if their parents completed the Census on-site via iPad.

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    Harris County, Texas

    Collaboration and partnerships are bedrock approaches for counties when it comes to Census outreach.  Recognizing the vital importance of county-city collaboration, Harris County, Texas joined forces with the City of Houston to form their 2020 Census Complete Count Committee. Following COVID-19, this collaborative committee sought partnerships with local nonprofits for in-person engagement to complement their shift toward digital outreach.  For example, the committee actively partnered with Epiphany Community Health Outreach Services to include Census messaging in COVID-19 aid events and materials. 

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    Cook County, Ill.

    Faith based organizations may not be able to promote Census participation in person, but they can still deliver Census messages to their members. In Cook County, some churches include a Census message as part of their regular health and wellness checks on their congregants during the pandemic.  Other community-based organizations have rented vans, attached loud speakers and delivered Census messages as they drive throughout different neighborhoods.

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    Alexander County, N.C.

    While a small, rural county, Alexander County, N.C. sought to take advantage of where they did have strength in numbers to increase Census response: over 100 churches.  Census information sheets were sent to all churches and faith-based groups in Alexander County to be included in bulletin inserts and newsletters.  The county also engaged with county industry leaders and Census information was distributed to employees and displayed by time clocks. 

    Prince Georges County, Md.

    In planning for Census 2020 before the onset of COVID-19, Prince George’s County engaged and partnered with their Memorial Library System for sharing Census information, as well as reserving a computer solely for completed the Census in library branches across the county.  While closed for COVID-19 safety, the county library system quickly pivoted to continue to provide outreach and assistance virtually.  Once libraries were able to safely re-open, the dedicated Census computer returned as well.  

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    Arlington County, Va.

    Rather than attempting to compete for the public’s attention with coronavirus response, leaders in Arlington County are working to help the public understand how pandemic response and economy recovery efforts are linked to the Census. A complete count will aid regional economic recovery by ensuring counties receive their fair share of resources. Census data will inform the county’s decision-making for key investments such as where COVID-19 testing centers should be located.

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    Mendocino County, Calif 

    The Mendocino County Complete Count Committee launched their Mendocino Counts!  webpage in January 2020 to serve as a resource and education one-stop for Census 2020.   Following Census disruption from COVID-19,  Mendocino County further shifted energy into digital marketing and outreach by creating a Census Influencers team and campaign.  Ten community members in each county Census Tract were tapped to utilize their networks, engagement and community trust to help drive education and Census action through social media and other online and digital outreach.  “Harder-to-Count” populations in the county were particularly targeted by influencers with tailored messaging, including rural and P.O. Box residents and non-English speaking residents. 

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    Ashtabula County, Ohio 

    Seeking innovative ways to provide Census 2020 outreach and engage local youth, Ashtabula County, Ohio launched an ‘Oscars-style’ competition for high school students enrolled in A-V and other technology classes to create educational and engaging Census videos for the community.  The initiative culminated with its very own ‘red carpet’ event for the students.  The videos were strategically used in county Census digital marketing efforts.  

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    Coconino County, Ariz. 

    Internet access and mobile phone coverage are significant challenges in a county that averages eight residents per each of its 18,661 square miles. In response, County Supervisor Lena Fowler led the development of WiFi asset maps that identify both public and private hotspots and internet access points in different cities and towns throughout the County. In practice, these maps could result in people parking outside of an area fair grounds and using a personal or County device to complete the form online. “When the next town that has WiFi is 90 minutes away, we have to know and publicize the exact locations where people can get online,” said Supervisor Fowler.

    Allegheny County, Pa.

    In partnership with the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County charted a thorough roadmap to a 2020 Census complete count by drafting their 2020 Census Action Plan.  This plan guided the direction of the Complete Count Committee, focusing on three themes: Examine, Educate & Engage.  The Examine section outlines critical mapping and data collection in the process; the Educate section is central to raising awareness of the importance of the Census; and the Engage section provides guidance on outreach and marketing to connect with residents.

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    Latest Census News and Resources

    With nearly a trillion dollars in federal funding being apportioned each year based on Census results, an accurate, complete count is crucial to county governments and their residents.
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