A special census is a basic enumeration of population, housing units, group quarters and transitory locations that the U.S. Census Bureau conducts at the request of a governmental unit.
If local officials believe their community’s population size or demographic composition changed considerably after the 2020 Census, a special census can update population estimates produced by the Census Bureau. However, it cannot review or recount 2020 Census results.
Local officials can request a full special census for their community or jurisdiction or a partial special census. A partial special census is conducted using the same methodologies and procedures as a regular or full special census. With a partial special census, however, the area being counted is typically much smaller. For example, governmental units may choose to conduct a partial special census with just those areas that might have experienced a large population growth or a boundary change.
Please note that the governmental unit requesting the special census assumes full responsibility for the cost of the count.
New Requirement for Partial Special Censuses:
All partial special censuses must contain at least one full 2020 Census Tabulation Tract. This is to ensure the efficacy of disclosure avoidance protections. Additionally, some governmental units may receive limited data products depending on the geography that is enumerated as part of the Special Census. Furthermore, this methodological change necessitates that a block or tract can only be included in a special census one time between 2023 and 2028.
This is a change from the 2010 Census in which the minimum geography required for a special census was a Census Block and multiple special censuses could be conducted for the same area.
The following active, functioning governmental unit types are eligible for conducting a special census so long as their state legislation allows for it:
• Tribal areas, including federally recognized tribes with a reservation and/or off-reservation trust lands, Alaska Native Regional Corporations, and Alaska Native villages.
• States or equivalent entities (e.g., District of Columbia, Puerto Rico).
• Counties or equivalent entities (e.g., boroughs, parishes, municipios).
• Minor Civil Divisions (e.g., townships).
• Consolidated Cities.
• Incorporated Places (e.g., villages, towns, cities).
Governmental units are responsible for reviewing their state's legislation to determine whether a special census can be conducted.
How does the Special Census program compare to other options for updating population counts after the 2020 Census? Refer to this comparison table:
Governmental units that request a special census receive several products.
We provide a signed letter from the Census Bureau’s Director confirming that the jurisdiction's special census population and housing counts are "Official Census Statistics."
In addition to this letter, the governmental unit also receives electronic files that show population and housing counts by block.
Official population and housing unit counts for governmental units that have requested and paid for a special census since the 2000 Census can be found here:
The Census Bureau conducts special censuses on a cost-reimbursable basis, meaning the governmental unit requesting a special census will assume full responsibility for the cost of the count and will reimburse the Census Bureau for all costs incurred by the Census Bureau.
Before a governmental unit signs a memorandum of agreement and prior to the commencement of any work, the Census Bureau will calculate a cost estimate so the cost and scope of a special census can be formalized. A special census cost estimate will include, but is not limited to, field work, printing of the response material, data processing, and the delivery of special census results. The exact cost will vary based on several factors, such as duration of field activities, self-response rate, boundary changes due to annexations, and enumerator pay rate. Additional expenses a governmental unit may incur, such as community outreach, are not included in the cost estimate.
If your jurisdiction is interested in a special census, complete form SC-900, Special Census Cost Estimate Request in full, and submit it electronically to DCMD.Special.Census@census.gov.
Please note that a cost estimate will not be calculated until BOTH an official letter from your Highest Elected Official and the completed SC-900 are received by the Census Bureau. Once the required items are received, the Special Census Program will notify you of receipt. It may take several weeks for the Census Bureau to produce a cost estimate based on the information you provide in the SC-900.
The Special Census Program began accepting requests for cost estimates from governmental units starting on March 30, 2023, and will continue to accept requests through May 2027. Data collection will start no sooner than January 2024 and will conclude in September 2028, ahead of the 2030 Census.
During a special census, the governmental unit’s responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
• Providing office space for establishing a temporary special census office. The office space must be able to securely house Title 13 confidential data and be accessible only to Census Bureau staff during the day, evenings, and weekends.
• Recruiting enumerators who are geographically distributed across the special census area.
• Conducting outreach efforts, general or targeted, to publicize the importance of the Special Census Program and increase cooperation and accuracy of the data collected.
Looking for more information? Additional details can be found in this guide:
Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page for information not limited to:
• Program start and end dates
• How a special census is conducted
• Questionnaire content
• Recruiting and hiring
• Data confidentiality
• Differences from earlier programs
If you have questions regarding a special census, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.