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Use & Implications of Census Data

Once compiled, the 2020 Census data will be used to inform a range of high-level political decisions, dictate a number of funding allocations at the local level, and have lasting research implications for the decade to come. The data will be used in five primary ways:


1. Revising the Allocation of Seats in Congress and in State Legislative Bodies

In accordance with the Constitution, this assessment of the total population and distribution of people living in the United States serves as the basis of political power in the country. Following the count, the number of seats in the House of Representatives allocated to each state are adjusted to reflect trends in population growth and migration. Lawmakers also rely on census data to define boundaries between districts, which impacts both voting outcomes in federal elections and the distribution of power in state-level policy bodies.


2. Determining the Allocation of Federal and State Funding

The process of distributing federal funding and grants between states, counties and communities is also informed by Census data, including both population totals and delineations by other demographic factors such as sex, age and race. It has been found that during fiscal year 2015, 132 agencies relied on this data to allocate more than $675 billion in federal funds . Population shifts or inaccuracies in data collection can drastically alter the funding that states and localities receive for critical programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Estimates for the funding distributed to the largest federal programs based on Census data in 2015 are included in the table below:


Figure 1: Federal Assistance Distributed Using Census Bureau Data in FY 2015



3. Planning for Infrastructure, Services and Programs

In addition to funding being partially decided on the basis of Census data, the investments in services and programs that states choose to make are often based on assumptions about the populations living in those states. Demographic information can be used to consider risks and needs that vary across race, age and gender, particularly in the realm of public health and disease prevention. But it can also have implications for the anticipation of infrastructure needs, such as whether a new road or school should be built.


4. Informing Private-Sector Decision Making

Entities in the private sector rely on Census data to inform planning as well, particularly with regard to planning expansions or the relocation of businesses. The consistency and reliability of the data has been cited by business leaders for its usefulness in understanding their potential customer base, anticipating trends, and better tailoring their services to the specific population within a community.


5. Impacting the Conclusions of Research and Advocates

Underpinning many of these potential implications is the reliance of nonprofits, scientific groups, think tanks, research organizations and advocates on Census data. Census data and the more frequent American Community Survey, which is benchmarked against the census, are used to assess the well-being of people in the United States, highlight disparities, develop policy solutions, and evaluate the efficacy of interventions .


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