Census is more than just counting heads

Posted on Feb 27, 2020 :: Commentary
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

If you haven’t received it yet, the 2020 census soon will be appearing in your mailbox. While we all know the census is important politically since it sets the number of congressional districts each state receives and how those districts are created, it also plays an important economic role.

Done every 10 years as outlined in the Constitution, the census aims to count everyone living in America and where they live. Where do economics fit in? Well, it turns out in multiple places. Businesses use the datasets to determine possible geographical growth areas and can begin shaping future development plans. Nonprofit organizations at the national level also use census data to determine where their help is most needed. It turns out, however, that the U.S. government is the largest user of census data as it relates to the economy.

The economic indicators from the census, such as growth in population, median age and median income, guide federal macroeconomic policies. Those policies directly affect the conditions under which businesses operate. While the census tries to count everyone, communities of color, low-income households, immigrants and children are missed at disproportionately high rates.

By law, the federal government needs to use the census data to guide the fair geographical allocation of more than $900 billion annually across 325 federal spending programs, including key social services, health care and education. That’s why you’re seeing organizations coming together to get out the word about the census — they want to make sure everyone is properly counted so programs can receive the maximum possible amount of grant money.

For example, in the Fox Cities, the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region and the United Way Fox Cities teamed up with the Appleton Public Library to increase awareness about the census, why it’s important to respond and what an undercount could mean for funding for services and infrastructure. 

Economic development and business organizations also are encouraging people to fill out their census forms. Federal agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security and the Treasury Department, use census data to shape industry-related policies, programs and plans, including access to financial capital.

When the census arrives, don’t let it sit in a pile on the counter. Fill it out since the information gathered will have a direct impact on the amount of federal funding local communities, organizations and businesses receive.