LAST UPDATED: October 17, 2020 by Ryan M
Under Title 13 of the U.S. Code, you can be fined up to $100 for refusing to fill out a census form and $500 for knowingly answering questions falsely. Noncompliance used to also bring the possibility of a 60-day prison sentence.
Originally, the U.S. Census was used solely to count the number of citizens in each state so members of Congress could be accurately allocated. Every 10 years there would be a count of the number of citizens in each state. States with larger populations were allocated more members of Congress. Over time, the government has gotten significantly larger and more complicated. Today, the federal government allocates money to states for all kinds of services and programs such as schools, public works projects, hospitals, senior living, etc. The census assists in accurately distributing these funds.
Prosecutions for not filling out the census are rare, but they do happen. One example is the prosecution of William Rickenbacker of Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. in 1960. Mr. Rickenbacker answered the basic census questions but refused to answer the expanded questions that asked about his household economic status. He argued that answering the questions violated his constitutionally protected right to privacy. A federal judge ruled against him, fining him $100 and issuing him a 60-day suspended prison sentence. This case was a big ordeal at the time.
Unless you live in the woods with no human contact, someone will likely notice if you don’t fill out and return your census form. After April 1st in a census year, all of the responses received by the U.S. Census Bureau are compared to lists of known U.S. residences. If you appear as a resident on a list but have not submitted your census form, a census worker will likely contact you to get the answers. The federal government hires thousands of temporary census workers at census time to visit the houses of those who did not respond to the census.
The census is a multi-billion (with a B) dollar project and its participation is taken very seriously by the federal government.
IMHO, just fill it out. If half of your state ignored the census, your state would get half of the tax dollars it should have gotten from taxes that you’ve already paid for. Also, who wants a census worker showing up at their house?
- The U.S. Census Bureau employed over 600,000 workers for the census in 2010.
- The first US Census was conducted by U.S. marshals in 1790. They traveled house to house gathering information about the residents. It cost about $45,000 and was completed in 18 months.
- In 1840, questions related to education and vocation were added to the census for the first time.