By Ellen McGirt
March 27, 2019

The U.S. Census matters, let us count the ways.

Every ten years, the government takes a snapshot of the people who live in the U.S. When those snapshots are put together, they become a slow-moving movie of a changing nation.

The data determines the shape of election districts, the allocation of state and federal representatives and city council members, and directs some $800 billion in annual federal spend.

To miss even one frame of that movie by undercounting people can impact how communities access the education, health care, financial, and justice services they need and deserve.

When services fall short, it puts increased pressure on the nonprofit sector and their donors to fill the gaps.

In addition to counting people, the bureau conducts ongoing surveys that determine the effectiveness of government programs.

In many cases, census data aids businesses looking for special tax treatment for their work in low-income communities – think lenders and real estate developers.

Federal budget cuts have put this vital effort at risk, says Robert Shapiro, the former Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs, who worked on the 2000 Census.

In this piece published by The Brookings Institution, he explains how the 2014 budget cuts forced the bureau to eliminate key staff but also abandon tests of essential improvements, like Spanish-language surveys and new ways to count people in rural areas. Recent budget battles have only worsened the readiness of the bureau under the current administration, he says. It’s now a crisis. “It is no surprise that the Government Accountability Office recently designated the 2020 Census as one of a handful of federal programs at “High Risk” of failure.”

This week, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams launched a new nonprofit called Fair Count, which aims to make sure hard-to-count Georgians will be reflected in the census. According to census estimates, some 20 percent of Georgians live in hard-to-count areas and include “minorities,” non-English speakers, and people without access to the internet or permanent addresses.

She’s right to be concerned.

The bureau said it missed more than 1.5 million people in 2010, primarily black, Hispanic, and Native American citizens, along with renters, young men and the elderly. The District of Columbia, Texas, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida were most likely to have undercounted populations.

Now the bureau is looking to Silicon Valley help stave off “fake news” stories and related campaigns that may frighten vulnerable populations and impact their data collection efforts, according to this report from Reuters.

While few details are known about these efforts – chatter from 4chan and other online groups got a shoutout – Reuters says that the bureau has gotten commitments from Twitter, Google, and Facebook to help combat online disinformation campaigns.

So, fingers crossed on that.

In the meantime, individual executives might consider joining the bureau’s Complete Count Committee Program, which creates targeted outreach efforts in communities across the country.

For broader company-wide efforts, check out the Census Partners program, for ideas on how big business can play a role in making sure the populations they touch – employees, customers, vendors, grant recipients, mentees, and related communities can be encouraged to get counted.

According to the Council For A Strong America, a nonpartisan group of five organizations including retired military leaders, the Census Bureau worked with more than 267,000 public and private enterprises during the 2010 count including NASCAR, NBC, Best Buy, Target, 3M, and Walgreens.

Speaking of the Council For A Strong America, they’ve put together a detailed guide on how businesses of all sizes can make a difference. You can check it out here.

And feel free to forward this newsletter to the CEO of your choice – including your favorite tech titan – and ask them how they might help the effort. Tell them raceAhead is counting on them.


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