U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Skip Header


2020 Census Group Quarters

Written by:

As we continue processing 2020 Census results, we’d like to provide more information on how we count people living in group quarters (GQs), such as nursing homes, military barracks and college/university student housing. We faced particular challenges in this operation related to the COVID-19 pandemic and had to make adjustments as the 2020 Census progressed last year.

We have briefly described some of the changes we made and anomalies we’ve found in earlier blogs. Today we’ll share more details on how we typically count people living in group quarters, what we did to adapt data collection and how we’re resolving some data processing issues.

Group Quarters 101

The place where most people in the United States live is something we call a “housing unit.” Typically, this includes dwellings such as houses, apartments and mobile homes.

However, not everyone lives in a housing unit. Roughly 3% of the population lives in group quarters, and some people have no fixed address at all.

Each decade, we conduct multiple operations to ensure we count people who live in places other than housing units. The group quarters operation is central to this process.

Group quarters are defined as places where people live or stay in a group living arrangement that is owned or managed by an organization providing housing and/or services for the residents.

GQs differ from typical household living arrangements because the people living in them are usually not related to one another. Group quarters include such places as college residence halls, residential treatment centers, skilled nursing facilities, group homes, military barracks, prisons and worker dormitories. 

GQs are located across the United States and Puerto Rico. They exist in urban and rural areas. For the 2020 Census, we contacted over 271,000 group quarters to make sure we counted everyone living in a GQ.

How We Count Group Quarters

To count people living in group quarters, we break up the operation into two parts – conducting an “advance contact” and then counting the residents.

In early 2020, our field staff contacted each GQ by phone or in person to prepare for counting its residents. We developed the list of GQs to contact by using information from previous operations, from information collected in our work with state and local governments and from canvassing communities for new places people might live. The objective of this “advance contact” was to:

  • Verify the GQ name, address, contact name and phone number.
  • Collect an expected population count for April 1, 2020 (the reference day for the census).
  • Determine which method the GQ preferred for counting its residents, and whether it could electronically send us a data file to count its residents.
  • Agree upon a date and time to conduct the enumeration.

For the actual enumeration, we offered the GQs a few response options:

  • eResponse. The GQ electronically transfers data to the Census Bureau in a standardized template.
  • Paper-based. The GQ submits a paper listing (facility administrative records with resident information) to our field staff or census takers drop off and pick up completed individual census questionnaires.
  • In-person. Census takers conduct in-person interviews with residents of the GQ to complete their individual census questionnaires.

We completed the operation’s advance contact phase in February 2020 and were well positioned to begin the GQ enumeration in April 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted our plans.

COVID Impact

We temporarily suspended 2020 Census field operations on March 18, 2020, in response to the emerging pandemic. As the pandemic continued, it became clear that we needed to adjust our plans for enumerating group quarters. 

Two key factors complicated our plans:

  • Many of the people living in GQs, such as college students, were no longer on-site to complete a paper form. 
  • Census Bureau staff couldn’t visit to carry out the in-person and paper-based options in facilities such as nursing homes or prisons because of pandemic-related restrictions. 

In the weeks that followed, we recontacted administrators who had selected a paper-based method to ask them to consider submitting an eResponse or a paper listing to minimize in-person contact.

We launched our eResponse option as scheduled in April 2020 and kept it open through the conclusion of field data collection. Because of the pandemic, we pushed back the start of our in-person GQ work to July 1 and completed these activities on September 3.

We are especially grateful for the tremendous support we received from GQ administrators. Despite dealing with enormous challenges of their own, most found time to complete the 2020 Census for their facilities.

Service-Based Enumeration

Another aspect of the GQ operation is counting people who receive services from shelters, soup kitchens and mobile food vans, as well as those living in certain outdoor locations and other places where people are known to sleep.

The original plan was to conduct these operations between March 30 and April 1 at a date and time the service providers chose. After the onset of the pandemic, we contacted the service providers again to adapt our plans to count the populations they serve.

Based on the advice of stakeholders and experts, we shifted the timing for these operations to Sept. 22-24. (In a limited number of locations, we shifted the count of outdoor locations to Sept. 25 because of curfews in place.) We completed these activities successfully with the help and support of the service providers.

Review Process

As we began our post-data collection processing, our reviews found several issues that we needed to address. While most group quarters provided sufficient information, there were some that did not.

We identified gaps and inconsistencies in the information that was provided – things like partial responses, missing information or duplicate people in the same GQ (for example, students listed in more than one dorm on a college campus). We made the decision to recontact over 10,000 group quarters to collect additional information or to confirm the information we had collected.

From Dec. 10 to Dec. 21, 2020, staff in our field offices across the nation, at our National Processing Center, and at Census Bureau headquarters contacted thousands of group quarters. Because of this effort, we were able to validate information we collected and fill in missing items. 

Where information was still missing, we used count imputation to fill in the gaps. Imputation is a statistical technique that fills in missing information with other available information.

We have used count imputation for many censuses to fill in missing population counts for households but had not planned to use it for group quarters. In future blogs we will share more information about how we used imputation for GQs, including how much imputation was needed to complete the GQ count. We’ll also talk more about other operational metrics we plan to release. We plan to share a few metrics on GQs along with the first results from the census, and we’ll share more in the months that follow.

Although last year was full of challenges for the nation and for the census, we adapted and improved our plans to count people living in GQs.

Related blogs


Random Samplings Blog
Introduction to Quality Indicators: Operational Metrics
In the coming weeks, the U.S. Census Bureau will release the first set of results from the 2020 Census. Our goal for every census is to count everyone once, only once, and in the right place.


Random Samplings Blog
2020 Census Group Quarters
As we continue processing 2020 Census results, we’d like to provide more information on how we count people living in group quarters (GQs).


Random Samplings Blog
Adaptación de las operaciones de campo para enfrentar desafíos sin precedentes
La oficina del Censo de los EE. UU. compartió información en una publicación de blog el 1 de marzo de 2021, acerca de cómo la realización de un censo es una tarea enorme, incluso en circunstancias ideales.


Random Samplings Blog
Encontrar ‘anomalías’ demuestra que los controles de calidad del Censo del 2020 funcionan
El 9 de marzo de 2021, la Oficina del Censo de los EE. UU. publicó un blog (en inglés) sobre las “anomalías” que encontramos al procesar los datos del Censo del 2020.


Random Samplings Blog
Adapting Field Operations to Meet Unprecedented Challenges
As we process census responses and analyze the quality of the 2020 Census, it’s helpful to look back at some of the unprecedented challenges we faced during this census.


Random Samplings Blog
Finding ‘Anomalies’ Illustrates 2020 Census Quality Checks Are Working
We’re in the midst of data processing for the 2020 Census. As Acting Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin acknowledged in a recent blog, we’ve discovered some “anomalies” along the way that we’re looking into and resolving.


Random Samplings Blog
Improvements to the 2020 Census Race and Hispanic Origin Question Designs, Data Processing, and Coding Procedures
This blog discusses how we improved the census questions on race and Hispanic origin, also known as ethnicity, between 2010 and 2020.


Random Samplings Blog
How We Complete the Census When Demographic and Housing Characteristics Are Missing
Although we strive to obtain all demographic and housing data from every individual in the census, missing data are part of every census process.


Random Samplings Blog
Using Demographic Benchmarks to Help Evaluate 2020 Census Results
One of the primary methods of evaluating the quality of a census is comparing the results to other population benchmarks.


Random Samplings Blog
Programa de Evaluaciones y Experimentos del Censo del 2020
Este blog describe la serie de evaluaciones formales que miden diferentes aspectos de las operaciones del censo y los desafíos.


Random Samplings Blog
2020 Census Program for Evaluations, Experiments, and Assessments
This blog describes the series of formal evaluations and assessments that measure different aspects of census operations and specific challenges.


Random Samplings Blog
Censo del 2020: Métricas de calidad, Publicación 2
Este blog proporciona datos destacados del segundo grupo de métricas operacionales de calidad del Censo del 2020.


Random Samplings Blog
The Post-Enumeration Survey: Measuring Coverage Error
Although we undertake extensive efforts to accurately count everyone in the decennial census, sometimes people are missed or duplicated.


Random Samplings Blog
Administrative Records and the 2020 Census
Each decade we are asked, “Why don’t you just use the information the government already has about me for the census? Why ask me again?”


Random Samplings Blog
Cómo completamos el censo cuando los hogares o alojamientos de grupo no responden
Mientras continuamos procesando las respuestas al Censo del 2020, las personas han preguntado qué sucede cuando no obtenemos una respuesta de una dirección.


Random Samplings Blog
Los registros administrativos y el Censo del 2020
Este blog describe cómo el Censo del 2020 usó los registros administrativos para contar a las personas que no respondieron.


Random Samplings Blog
Examining Operational Quality Metrics
The Census Bureau is taking a multifaceted approach to studying the quality of the 2020 Census, so as to produce a more complete and informative picture.


Random Samplings Blog
Comparisons to Benchmarks as a Measure of Quality
Data quality is multidimensional and so approaching it from multiple angles produces a more insightful and holistic picture of a dataset.


Random Samplings Blog
Revisión de los datos del Censo del 2020
En este blog hablamos sobre cómo estamos realizando una de las revisiones de datos más completas en la historia reciente del censo, para el Censo del 2020.


Random Samplings Blog
How We Complete the Census When Households or Group Quarters Don’t Respond
As we continue to process 2020 Census responses, people have asked what happens when we don’t get a response from an address.


Random Samplings Blog
2020 Census Operational Quality Metrics: Release 2
Today we released the second round of 2020 Census operational quality metrics.


Random Samplings Blog
Ensuring a Robust and Accurate Data Quality Analysis in the 2020 Census
Asking outside experts to review our work is standard operating procedure at the U.S. Census Bureau. It underscores our commitment to quality and transparency.


Random Samplings Blog
Timeline for Releasing Redistricting Data
We expect to deliver the redistricting data to the states and the public by Sept. 30, 2021.


Random Samplings Blog
Census Data Processing 101
Michael Thieme describes how census data processing works to ensure the census is accurate.


Random Samplings Blog
Update on 2020 Census Data Processing and Quality
The Census Bureau has begun processing the data collected for the 2020 Census. Data collection for the decennial census is always a herculean task and 2020 was no exception.


Directors Blog
2020 Census Processing Updates
I’m writing to provide an update on data processing for the 2020 Census.


Random Samplings Blog
2020 Census Data Review
For the 2020 Census, we are conducting one of the most comprehensive reviews in recent census history.


Random Samplings Blog
Upcoming 2020 Census Coverage Estimates 
The U.S. Census Bureau released coverage estimates for the 2020 Census.

Top

Back to Header