National Census Day at National League of Cities!

April 1, 2020 - (6 min read)

Today is the most important holiday of the decade. We only get to celebrate it for about 10 minutes once every 10 years and, for many of your residents, this will be their first time celebrating!  

It’s Census Day!  

NLC is excited to support municipal leaders with information and tools to best implement GetOutThe Count (GOTC) plansWe never anticipated, however, that our communities would be celebrating Census Day in such isolated and challenging conditions. Getting a full and accurate count for the 2020 Census was never going to be easy, particularly for historically undercounted communities, and now COVID-19 has broadened the challenges municipalities are facing to ensure that everyone is countedThe U.S. Census Bureau has extended its timeline to respond to COVID-19 concerns. 

We know that local leaders are on the frontlines of both the COVID-19 response and census GOTC, figuring out how to keep their communities safe while also making sure that the most vulnerable among us are countedFor many in historically undercounted communities, the temporary closure of businesses and schools has meant housing displacementjob loss, lack of childcare optionsand financial insecurity  responding to the census could easily fall through the cracks.  

All this means we get to be more creative in using the local relationships we already have in order to leverage fun and engaging ways to pivot away from in-person community gatherings and towards remote GOTC 

Luckily, for the first time in the 230-year history of the decennial censuswe can fill out the census online! Self-responding at and over the phone are the safest and fastest ways to make sure everyone is counted 

These are some great ideas on how to adjust your GOTC strategies for remote outreach that we are already hearing about from NLC members: 

  1. Distribute small hand sanitizers, and packets of tissues in bulk with instructions on how to take the 2020 Census online, by phone, or by mail. 
  2. Use messaging specifically about COVID-19 – encourage people to continue “social distancing” and to go online at to selfrespond.  
  3. Increase ad buys during evening news and on social media. 
  4. Use billboards. Increase drive-time radio PSAs. 
  5. Include “how-to-self-respond” messaging on bundles of donations at places like food pantries and diaper banks. 
  6. Put stickers on grab-and-go meals for kids who rely on free breakfast and lunch programs.  
  7. Train volunteers or staff to flier the neighborhood instead of canvassing. (NLC has created census information fliers and posters you can customize with your logo.) 
  8. Put census posters in pharmacies, bodegas, post offices, banks, and grocery stores. Think about leaving census information in the essential businesses that are open in your community and where people can’t help but continue to visit.  
  9. Use mobile vans with strong Wi-Fi hotspots that can drive into neighborhoods and temporarily provide a hotspot that people can use to finish their Census online from inside their homes. 
  10. Learn more about textbanking (train volunteers to use apps like Hustle). 
  11. Set up remote phonebanking with local non-profits. 
  12. Start a self-response rate challenge among your residents. Offer a prize to the neighborhood with the highest self-response! 
  13. The same fears around the Census haven’t gone away; continue to message that the 2020 Census is safe, and that there is no citizenship question on the 2020 Census. 

Census Day is about celebrating the opportunity to transform our communities. By responding to the 2020 census, we are celebrating one another and investing in our future. The National League of Cities invites you to celebrate National Census Day for the rest of April—call it National Census Month—and ensure that every baby, every kid, every adult, every person gets counted. 

Happy Census Day (and Month)! 

Additional Resources: 

Census Counts has an exhaustive treasure trove of GOTC digital organizing tools and training, including:  

NLC created this customizable census communications toolkit, available in 11 languages! 

States Count Action Network started a public folder for people to share remote organizing tools and ideas Check out this Census Day message from NLC CEO, Clarence Anthony! 

What are historically undercounted communities? 

Historically undercounted communities (sometimes referred to as HUs) include: 

  • Newborns, babies, toddlers, and kids under 5 years old – in fact, this is the largest undercounted group in the country, with 48% of young African-American38% of Hispanic, and 28% of Asian children at risk of being missed in the count. 
  • Renters and people who move often 
  • Homeless and unhoused 
  • People who don’t speak English 
  • Low-income households 
  • Immigrants 
  • LGBTQ youth 
  • Mixed immigration status households 
  • Racial and ethnic minorities 
  • College students who live in off-campus housing 
  • Low-literacy households 
  • These groups are often also known as hard-to-count (HTC) communitiesThe onus, however, is on all of us to make sure that everyone is counted, even if that means that trying a variety of outreach methods that work for different groups 

Visit for more information for local leaders. 

About the Authors:

Miki Noguchi is the Cities Count Program Manager with NLC’s Local Democracy Initiative

Olivia_Snarski_smallOlivia Snarski is the Program Director for NLC’s Local Democracy Initiative.




Spencer-Wagner-small.jpgSpencer Wagner is the Program Specialist with NLC’s Local Democracy Initiative. His research focuses on state preemption of local policy and its impacts.