Why the Census Matters
- The Census is not just an exercise in bean counting. The framers of the Constitution intended for it to be an important form of political empowerment of the people over government. Mandated under Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, the Census provides data necessary to appoint representatives among the states for the House of Representatives and to redistrict legislative districts.
- In addition to determining representation, an accurate Census helps every community get a fair allocation of resources. Census data are used to help determine how $675 billion is distributed from the federal government to state and local governments, including funding for programs like Head Start, Medicare, SNAP and Pell grants. A December 2018 report by the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy estimated that census numbers guide $880 billion a year in federal funding distributed for schools, roads and other public services in local communities.
- One Census Bureau resources highlights 50 different ways census data are used including: the distribution of over $675 billion annually in federal funds and even more in state funds; assessing the potential for the spread of communicable diseases; making business decisions and understanding consumer needs; rural area development; planning for faith-based organizations; planning new schools; attracting new businesses to state and local areas; planning for hospitals and other health services; and designing public safety strategies. Demographic data from the Census are used by businesses to determine, for example, where to build new supermarkets, and by emergency responders to locate injured people after natural disasters.
- Survey research data and response rates have shown that those who know more about how census data are used and about the process are more likely to participate. In the 2010 census, for example, Pew Research Center found that age and education were the biggest predictors of participation. Survey respondents with lower levels of education and income were also less likely to say they would participate. To counteract these previous trends, the Census Bureau is emphasizing local organizing and educating the public on how census data are used.