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Bringing the Data to Life

Nonprofits, governments, businesses, and more are counting on 2020 Census results.

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Children getting on bus

As they look ahead to the next decade, officials at the YMCA of the USA are focused on anticipating changes, rather than reacting to them.

The 2020 Census will help with that goal.

“In order for not only the Y but other community-serving organizations to make sure that they’re effectively allocating resources, they’ve got to know who’s in their community,” says Maria-Alicia Serrano, Senior Director of Research, Analytics, and Insights for the YMCA of the USA.

“There’s a basic element of, hey, if we’ve got 4,000 kids living in our area, that might mean there’s 4,000 kids who need after-school care.”

The 2020 Census will provide insights just like that, painting a valuable picture of communities across the country for government officials, business owners, researchers, nonprofit leaders, and many others. This once-a-decade count will help a wide range of leaders better understand the communities that they serve and make decisions about the future.

Consider just a few of the many ways that census data will be used over the next 10 years:

  • Community leaders will use the data to identify needs and make decisions, such as where to build a new school or where to increase support for single parents or older adults.
  • Business owners will use the results to make decisions about where to open new locations, where to hire employees, and what types of products to offer.
  • Health care companies will use the data to help plan where to build new hospitals and clinics or expand existing ones. And health programs will use the results to plan for maternal and child health, preventative health services, and more.
  • Nonprofit leaders will use the population data to make the case for much-needed grants.
  • Emergency officials and city leaders will use it for emergency planning, preparedness, and recovery efforts.

“The metro and public transit here in Madison [Wisconsin], and other communities, relies on federal funding for their year-to-year operations and for the acquisition of buses and things like that,” says Benjamin Zellers, a city planner who has led the Madison Complete Count Committee.

“The 2020 Census has been a pretty significant piece of the transit funding puzzle.”

It’s an important piece to the school planning puzzle as well.

“The census only comes around once a decade,” says Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham. “A kindergartener counted in the 2020 Census … will be in high school when the next census comes around in 2030; that’s 10 years of school supplies, teachers, school lunches and school resources that are dependent on ensuring every child is counted.”

Taking Stock of Cities

In Denver, city officials and census partners have worked hard to get the word out about the count.

The area has changed a lot over the past decade and this is a valuable opportunity to measure that change, says Kaye Kavanaugh, who works for the city as a census coordinator.

“No one really lived downtown 20 years ago,” she says. “Certainly, a little bit 10 years ago. And now there are whole new neighborhoods and tons of new buildings. So, just to capture the change and the current state of our city would be important to the city and to everyone who lives here.”

Kavanaugh has worked with census data for years, including once as a statistician in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Denver Regional Office. Looking ahead to the 2020 results, she’s interested to see how many people are living in Denver’s lower-income neighborhoods, particularly as rising housing costs can lead multiple families to live together.

“We’ve had a ton of growth—up until recently, a ton of economic expansion—and disproportionate impacts on certain communities,” she says. “Certain neighborhoods are lacking, so part of my hope is that we can get a complete count and make a good case for some of the densely populated neighborhoods.”

Securing Funding

In Michigan, Joan Gustafson knows that states can miss out on valuable funding when not everyone is counted.

As External Affairs Officer for the Michigan Nonprofit Association, she also knows that nonprofits are often called on to bridge the gap when the funding runs out. That’s why an accurate count is so important—especially when the data informs funding for the next 10 years.

“That’s the kind of money that we can’t make up,” she says.

“As long as people are counted, we will get our fair share of federal tax dollars—that we pay into the system—back into our communities.”

And so, Gustafson has worked alongside nonprofit leaders in Michigan to raise awareness of the census and encourage communities to respond. With the state and the country confronting the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve highlighted food and unemployment assistance programs that rely on census data.

“I think people are really realizing how important it is [to be counted],” she says. “It’s even more imperative right now.”

Planning for the Future

As officials began charting the future for YMCA, it became apparent that they needed a better understanding of the communities they serve. So they worked with the firm Datastory to develop a map tool.

The tool’s accuracy relies, in part, on Census Bureau data.

With a few clicks of a keyboard, YMCA officials can now zero in on a particular YMCA and its surrounding community. They can compare membership data with overall community data to better understand who is and who isn’t coming through the doors—and what services might help those who aren’t being reached.

“For example,” Serrano says, “being able to identify if the Y could provide greater support around early childhood education or after-school care.”

The 2020 count can help provide those insights, not just for this year, but the decade ahead.

“Understanding who’s in your community, and being able to do strong estimates, has a long-term impact,” she says. “The importance of the count isn’t just about this year, but it’s about the next 10 years.”