Brow Beat

John Oliver Counts the Reasons to Participate in the 2020 Census

On the season finale of Last Week Tonight on Sunday, John Oliver looked ahead to 2020 and the census, which, despite what the president says, does not ask how many toilets you have in your house. (According to Oliver, the answer should be four: “one for pees, one for poops, one for guests, and one for groups.”) Instead, the census records how many people live at a given residence and basic information about them, including their age, race, and sex.


There are plenty of good reasons to participate, Oliver explains, including that census data is used to determine government funding and the distribution of political power in the country. Unfortunately, that means there are also incentives for politicians to meddle with the questionnaire, as the Trump administration did by recommending adding a citizenship question that could discourage certain minority groups from participating. Those efforts failed, so there will not be a citizenship question on the 2020 census after all. But as Oliver points out, some Latinos and immigrants may have been scared off by the mere suggestion of the question, and experts are expecting an undercount.

If you don’t want to participate in the census for the sake of yourself or your community, do it to irritate the president, pleaded Oliver. “His administration already clearly thinks that certain people don’t count, so there’s no better way to get back at him than to make sure that you do and make the census count you,” he said. “Why not include a note telling him how many toilets you have? Which, remember, should be four.”