It's Time to Prepare for Census 2020

An article for Planning magazine readies the planning profession for the largest peacetime activity of the federal government. All indications are that the 2020 Census will include unprecedented changes.

February 11, 2017, 11:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Historic Computer

A U.S. Census Bureau computer operator at a punch card sorter, ca. 1940. | Everett Historical / Shutterstock

"That's right. It's almost census time, an American tradition since 1790," writes Christopher Williamson.

Williamson's post is a call to action for planners to understand the significance of the Census for their work, as well as possibly to participate in the Census process once it's running in full force in 2020.

First Williamson, notes the many changes that are still under consideration for the 2020 Census:

Several things are new this time around. For one, the census that will take place in three years is going almost all-digital. It also may have a few changes in the race/ethnic origin categories that could affect comparability with past census data and other datasets. And perhaps of the most immediate use to planners and local governments: There are tons of new tools for harnessing and crunching data.

As for the relevance of the Census to the planning profession, Williamson states the case:

Planners use census data all the time, particularly from the ACS. It delivers age and characteristics of housing structures, housing costs, employment and journey to work, educational attainment and school enrollment, persons with disabilities, and other statistics. ACS data also provides median household incomes and poverty statistics that qualify census tracts for Community Development Block Grants. Each ACS question is related to a federal program or directly required by legislation, but it also functions as a continuous narrative of how and where we live in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Williamson concludes by listing the software tools and data tips that can help harness the full power of the Census, along with a timeline of significant events that will take place before 2020 in laying the foundation for a thorough, successful census.

[Editor's note: you might need to login to the APA website to view the article in full.]

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