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Op-Ed by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross: We’ll Deliver a Complete and Accurate Census Count


The 2020 decennial census will overcome delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic and severe weather conditions, and we will finish, by Sept. 30, a complete and accurate field data collection. As secretary of Commerce, I am required to deliver the fully processed results to President Donald Trump by Dec. 31. We will meet those deadlines.

Some have questioned our ability to perform on this timeline without impacting completeness or accuracy. The numbers prove that is not the case. We are overcoming delays by hiring more people than planned, incentivizing them to work more hours, and improving productivity through technology.

Nearly 85% of all households, nearly 130 million, had been enumerated as of Sept. 2, with many days left to complete our follow-up with nonresponding households. Of households that self-responded, more than 80% responded online. For the first time, every household was invited to respond online, over the phone or on paper.

Our increased $700 million outreach campaign promoted self-response across the country in more languages than ever before, based on extensive focus group data across all audiences. Our advertising alone has reached more than 99% of all households an estimated 365 times during the campaign, compared with 2010 when the campaign reached 95% of all households an average of just 71 times. Tim Olson, who leads our Census field operations, and I jointly called the mayors of 70 large, underperforming cities to discuss ways to improve responses. 

Additionally, to overcome the pandemic and to ensure we safely complete our data collection on time, we are maximizing staff numbers and production hours for field data collection operations. We have continued to hire census takers throughout our follow-up operation, replacing those who quit midway, while ensuring proper health and safety training. To recognize census takers who make the extra effort and put in the extra time, we are offering financial incentives.

Productivity to date is well above our initial forecast. As of today, we have nearly 250,000 field staff, working more hours and completing more cases per hour than planned, at double the rate projected. Electronic data collection and computerized routing is increasing productivity and minimizing time. 

Most important, we are meeting the same accuracy standards for data collection as in prior censuses. 

These numbers prove we are on our way to a complete and accurate census. If you are a naysayer, please take the time to track our daily progress by visiting We are in the homestretch, so I urge you to complete your census form now, online, by phone or by mail. The future of your community depends on it. 

Wilbur Ross is the secretary of the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau.