Guest Post: An accurate U.S. Census is not only good for business, but critical for our economy

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

No segment of our economy can survive – let alone thrive – without solid, up-to-date data.

My own field of healthcare is filled with examples of the research and information we need. From studies about the latest cancer-fighting treatment to the results of an individual patient’s annual physical exam, it’s clear that our doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals cannot effectively pursue their important work without reliable data on which to base decisions.

Similarly, the U.S. Census produces some of the most fundamental data on which our American economy depends: a comprehensive idea of how many people live in our country, and where. The Census provides demographic details that are central to such business aims as siting new facilities, conducting market research, and assessing local levels of education and training for hiring-related projections.

Few other data sets are more indispensable, from a business standpoint.

But the sad fact is, our country’s official head-count is not as accurate as it should be, routinely missing millions of people. This is particularly true in the case of “hard to count” communities, such as low-income families, people of color, rural households, and young children – especially kids from the most disadvantaged households. And children under 5 represent the age group that’s most likely to go undercounted: The 2010 census missed about 4.6 percent of them overall – more than 1 million youngsters, nationwide.

That’s a serious concern to business leaders like me, considering the ample research that connects the well-being of today’s young children with the long-term well-being of tomorrow’s workforce.

All told, the census is vital to the accurate allotment of more than $800 billion in federal resources each year, including nearly $20 billion for Illinois alone. Many of these dollars are destined for schools, housing, health care, and other services that are essential to children’s optimal learning and healthy growth. So, an unreliable census risks faulty decisions in our work of accurately targeting resources to Head Start, child care, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, among other initiatives that help put youngsters on a path toward success in schools and careers.

Simply put: Without adequate, accurate information to help guide our decisions about investing wisely in kids’ learning and development, we shortchange our economic future.

Our Illinois workforce already suffers a substantial “skills gap” that’s holding back our progress and productivity, according to the ReadyNation network of business leaders, to which I belong. To regain more of our competitive edge, we should take whatever steps are necessary to help shrink that gap, rather than exacerbate it – and ensuring an accurate Census count is one such step.

We have an opportunity to get it right only once every 10 years. Illinois’ undercount in 2010 spelled the loss of over $950 per person in federal funding – adversely affecting kids, families, and communities throughout our state. Let’s not repeat that mistake, and, instead, step up our efforts to reach hard-to-count communities and ensure a sound Census in 2020.

~ Maureen Kahn, RN, MSN, MHA; President & CEO, Blessing Health System, Quincy & Member, ReadyNation Illinois

Blessing Health System includes Blessing Hospital and the Blessing-Rieman College of Nursing & Health Sciences, both in Quincy, as well as Pittsfield-based Illini Community Hospital and a number of other healthcare services in west-central Illinois, employing more than 3,000 health care professionals.