The Economic Case for an Accurate Census Count

The United States Census Bureau has begun operations across the country for the 2020 Census. The Founding Fathers included the mandatory headcount in our Constitution because they valued evidence-based policy-making. The census began in 1790 as an innovative data gathering operation and continues today to serve as the foundational data set that informs business, economics, […]

The United States Census Bureau has begun operations across the country for the 2020 Census. The Founding Fathers included the mandatory headcount in our Constitution because they valued evidence-based policy-making. The census began in 1790 as an innovative data gathering operation and continues today to serve as the foundational data set that informs business, economics, and overall society. However, there are escalating concerns that the Census Bureau’s goal to count everyone once in the right place may be jeopardized by a number of factors leading into the decennial count. The threat of an inaccurate count is very concerning for American businesses, who rely on information derived from the census every day to make material decisions that create jobs and grow our national economy. As Howard Fienberg, vice president of Insights Association, stated in a recent Congressional hearing, “the trickle-down impact of an inaccurate 2020 Census would restrain or ruin American businesses for a whole decade.”

Why does the census matter for businesses?  The census is a crucial tool that provides information about the characteristics of the population that no other survey produces. Accurate data from the count is critical to informed decision-making in both the private and public sectors.

Specifically, the census provides businesses with vital demographic information about customers, the workforce, and the economic landscape that is used by companies of all sizes in every industry sector. Population data from the census helps companies assess concentrations of skilled workers, neighborhoods to open a new store or office, and what products to offer.

What exactly is at stake for the Lehigh Valley?  In Pennsylvania, we receive $39 billion each year from Federal allocations using census-derived data.  Funding supports programs ranging from investments in infrastructure and technology to supporting healthcare and education. In forecasts of low-response rates for the count, there are many areas of the Lehigh Valley in which 30% or more of a census tract are predicted to be unresponsive. For each person not counted, the Lehigh Valley loses $2,093 per person per year.  An undercount of the estimated 670,000 Lehigh Valley residents puts federal funding at risk, while also decreasing the amount of representation our community has in government. Current predictions show Pennsylvania losing one congressional seat after the 2020 census. Unfortunately, there is increased national risk of an inaccurate count due to underfunding of the Census Bureau, the launch of a new online platform, and an overall polarized social climate.

An undercount will impact the private sector dramatically on everyday decisions, and subsequently, have an impact on the lives of Lehigh Valley residents. For example, utility companies would not know where to site new cell towers, electric transmission lines, or water lines, so certain communities would go without enough coverage while others might end up unnecessarily over-saturated. To put it simply, without accurate census data, Lehigh Valley businesses can’t know what the Lehigh Valley needs.

What can Lehigh Valley businesses do? In the face of these challenges, the private, public, and nonprofit sectors all over the nation have stepped up. After all, there is no better return on investment than ensuring the Lehigh Valley has accurate data that businesses need, and the region receives the correct federal allocation of funding and is represented adequately in our government.

Below are ways in which the private sector can make an impact on the count:

  • Fill out the census, and encourage employees, customers, and residents to complete the census, too. Become an official partner with the Census Bureau to distribute information as a valued and trusted voice in the Lehigh Valley.
  • Consider joining one of the six different complete count committees, made up of local business, government, and nonprofit leaders, which have formed at the local and county levels to ensure that everyone is counted.
  • Contribute to the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation’s Census Equity Fund. The Lehigh Valley Community Foundation is providing funding, training, building awareness, and championing efforts across the Lehigh Valley to ensure an accurate count.

The 2020 census will have an impact on the local and national economy. If census data is not accurate or has limited quality, businesses may face challenges in making good decisions, which can affect their bottom lines and our communities for the next ten years.

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