Why Census Matters

Why the Census Matters to Cities, Towns & Villages*

The Goal

The 2020 Census is the single largest civilian governmental undertaking in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau’s official goal is to ensure that “everyone is counted once, only once and in the right place.”

Mandated by the U.S. Constitution and conducted every 10 years since 1790, the census will seek in 2020 to accurately tally some 140 million households and over 325 million people. More than $600 billion per year in federal money is tied to the count, as are the number of congressional seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.

An accurate census helps ensure fair representation at all levels of government. 

The primary constitutional purpose for the decennial census is to determine how many congressional representatives each state will have for the next decade and to ensure equal representation in the redistricting process. For instance, congressional districts and the boundaries of your city ward are determined by census numbers.

The census directly impacts the funding your city will receive over the next decade.

Population counts and statistics derived from both the decennial census and other surveys determine the annual allocation of more than $800 billion1 in federal investment across states, counties and cities. While many financial assistance programs and block grants, like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), are distributed to cities based on American Community Survey (ACS) statistics, the benchmark for all ACS data is the decennial census.

The census provides the most reliable and complete data for research, decision making and planning for both the public and private sectors.

Academic institutions, medical facilities, businesses of all sizes and all levels of government rely on census data to inform their research, decision making and planning. While the decennial census only asks a few basic questions, the population counts and demographic data that it produces serve as a benchmark for most other current statistics that help us gain deeper insights into our communities.

Governments (Local, State and Federal)

  • Demographic composition of a community and constituency in education planning 

  • Procurement and provision of services 

  • Infrastructure & transportation planning

  • Allocation of resources and a way to provide financial assistance where needed

  • Emergency preparedness, disaster relief, and resiliency planning

  • Characterization of built structures for zoning and permitting processes

  • Measurement of the success and outcomes of local programs or initiatives

Major Community Stakeholders (Universities, Medical Facilities, Nonprofits, Utilities) 

  • Medical research and planning (public health tracking, vaccinations, disease control, etc.) 

  • Socioeconomic research on communities

  • Design of educational curricula 

  • Statistics and metrics used in journalism and news reporting

Business Community

  • Supply chain and logistics management 

  • Determining new markets and where to expand

  • Forecasting sales and growth projections

  • Location of retail outlets and logistics facilities

  • Workforce development 

*From National League of Cities

Reamer, Andrew. “Counting for Dollars 2020: The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds.” The George Washington University Institute of Public Policy. 24 July 2018. Web Access: https:// gwipp.gwu.edu/counting-dollars-2020-role-decennial-census-geographic-distribution-federal-funds?