Supporting the 2020 Census to Promote High-Quality Data for Decision-Making

September 18, 2019 9:00 AM | Data Coalition Team (Administrator)

One of the largest data collection exercises undertaken by the United States government every 10 years is about to begin – the decennial census. In June 2019 the Data Coalition announced its formal partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau to help promote an accurate count, with support from the business community.

Data Coalition members met with U.S. Census Bureau Deputy Director Ron Jarmin to discuss the inflection points as the country prepares for the 2020 census, in addition to how the business community’s technology and data analytics firms can be more involved. Here are three key takeaways from the discussion:

#1: The benefits of a high-quality, accurate count are both clear and significant. 

The country needs a high-quality census count to support a range of activities beyond allocating representation in Congress, from evidence-based policymaking in government to data-driven decision-making in the private sector. Decision-makers throughout government rely on census to allocate grant funds, determine the number of households in a region for assessing program needs, and also use the information to benchmark other surveys, such as the American Community Survey. Similarly, the business community relies on census data to determine where to locate new offices or retail establishments and to inform market insights. 

An accurate count is also a difficult feat because some populations are especially difficult to reliably count. Populations include migrant communities, children under five, and homeless individuals, just to name a few. All of these populations are important to capture because as population dynamics shift, government and businesses must be able to respond accordingly to ensure public and private services are efficient, effective, and meet the expectations of the American people. 

#2: Census privacy and confidentiality protections are strong.

While there has been much discourse over the past year about how certain data may be used in the contemporaneous environment to support decision-making, the Census Bureau data must be held in confidence. 

The Census Bureau is only allowed to release summary statistics or information that does not include personal identifiers to the public. Any violation of this policy is also a violation of two separate laws – the Census Act and the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2018 – potentially carrying $250,000 in fines and up to 5 years imprisonment under each of the laws for each offense. Needless to say, the safeguards in law and throughout the Census Bureau’s professional staff are taken seriously and the American public should be assured that their confidential data will be strictly protected. 

#3: Every organization can – and should – play a role in supporting an accurate count.

There are numerous tactics that businesses and non-profit organizations can use to support an accurate census count. But whether large or small, all organizations can play a role in supporting the census. Potential examples of activities could include promoting the census on websites, encouraging employees to respond to the census in 2020 with emails or even breakroom posters, all the way through targeted support services to meet particular needs. 

Data Coalition member Esri published a resource in July 2019 explaining relevant methodological and technology tools for supporting the geospatial capabilities needed for the census. Another Data Coalition member, Tableau, is supporting the Census Bureau’s efforts to track response rates once the census begins, so that local community organizers can have efficient metrics to support their efforts. Deloitte Consulting offers a variety of IT and management support roles to encourage support efficient execution of the 2020 census. New member USAFacts is working to promote the new features of next year’s census. The Census Bureau continues to search for partners in the business community for the 2020 census. 

Other data and technology partners are critical for supporting the census as social media and internet efforts have rapidly advanced over the past decade. The 2020 census will allow responses through the internet making responding easier than ever, but the risk of misinformation campaigns and the presence of cybersecurity threats are real. Technology and data companies can help support the census in reducing the risks for executing a census in the modern world. 

The Data Coalition will continue to support the effort to ensure the 2020 census results in useful data for the American people. 



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