The Controversial Citizenship Question on the 2020 Census

The United States Census holds important information that genealogists can use to learn more about their ancestors. Over the years, the questions on the census have changed. Things were added, altered, or updated. In March of 2018, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that the 2020 census would have a citizenship question. Some feel that this is a controversial question to add.

The reason for the citizenship question was “to help enforce the Voting Rights Act (VRA).” The Department of Commerce’s announcement states that the Department of Justice requested that the citizenship question be added to the 2020 census.

Politifact provides an easy to understand history of the citizenship question on the census. The 1820 and 1830 censuses had a question about U.S. citizenship. In 1870, the census asked males 21 years of age and older their citizenship. A citizenship question has appeared on the census since 1890 (with the exception of 1960).

The last time all households were asked about U.S. Citizenship was in the 1950 census. That census questioned where individuals were born, and “if foreign-born – is he naturalized?”. The 2010 census used a short-form that did not ask about citizenship. One in six households received the long-form, which did have a citizenship question.

Why do some people feel the new citizenship question is controversial? can provide some clarity. The Census Bureau is committed to counting every person in the correct place.

“The fundamental reason the decennial census is conducted is to fulfill the Constitutional requirement (Article I, Section 2) to apportion the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the states. Thus, for a fair and equitable apportionment it is crucial that people are counted in the right place during the 2010 census.”

There is concern that undocumented people will avoid being counted in the 2020 census, out of fear of being deported and separated from their family. If this occurs, the number of people counted in the 2020 census will be incorrect.

The data will show that the amount of people living in a specific area is smaller than the number of people who actually live there. You may end up with less representation in Congress than you should have, less electoral college votes for your state, and less funding for government programs like Medicaid, Head Start, and the National School Lunch Program (to name a few).

For genealogists, an incorrectly counted census could mean that your relatives won’t be included in the data. Future generations of your family will have one less source of information from which to learn about their ancestors.

Related Articles at

* The 2020 Census has Funding Problems

* Questions on the U.S. Census

* What Can Census Records Say About Your Family?

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