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First online U.S. census kicks off amid coronavirus fears


U.S. residents will begin receiving census forms in the mail as early as Thursday as the federal government kicks off its once-a-decade count of the population, a gargantuan effort crucial to guiding U.S. political and economic policy but which experts fear will be complicated by the spread of coronavirus.

The 2020 survey is expected to cost taxpayers some $15 billion and is meant to be the first taken largely online. Most residents receiving forms will be asked to submit responses at my2020census.gov, instead of by mail. But as in the past, census door-knockers will be dispatched to households that do not answer the letters.

The virus might discourage people from answering the door, said Jeffrey Wice, a census expert and Democratic redistricting adviser. Headlines about coronavirus and the resulting economic strain might also make it harder to spread awareness about the count.

“The Census Bureau will have difficulty grabbing people’s attention,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, a consultant and former congressional staffer overseeing census matters. “I think the environment for promoting census participation becomes much more difficult.”

12 March 2020


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