Why the Census Matters II: Social Indicators

If only I could get him to come to my class. In Philanthrocapitalism, Bill Gates tells the story that what turned him into a large-scale philanthropist was a World Bank report on global health that exposed him to the global injustices to which he had been largely blind.

That’s the power of a stark social indicator, folks. Worth billions of dollars. Literally.

Okay, so even someone as pro-social indicator as I am can’t promise that you’ll see that kind of response to all of your data. But it’s important to remember that the 2010 Census, the results of which will start flowing soon, matter for more than just federal allocations of dollars.

U.S. Census data help us know our communities, plan our programs, justify our needs (and our very existence), and tell our stories. They provide the backdrop to the grassroots, participatory research that we’re doing, and they can help us to identify trends that demand our attention or signs that we’re making progress. They put new issues on the agenda, focus media and public attention on the status of our society, and (if we play it right) give voice to problems and populations that might otherwise be overlooked. You’ll turn to them dozens of times over the next 10 years, weaving them into grant applications and referencing them in your reports and citing them in policy briefs and projecting them in dramatic maps.

So they need to include the people with whom you work, those who populate your community, those whose lives need to count. Not just because it means more highway dollars for your MSA, but because, otherwise, all of the decisions and conclusions that flow from these data (do we need to translate government documents into Spanish?, should we invest more in services for young families or older adults?, which populations need the most attention in terms of educational attainment?, where have we made the biggest gains?) will be made without them, too.

We don’t know, yet, who might be watching those social indicators, looking for something to catch their eyes, needing the right piece of data to convince them that a problem deserves their attention. But we know that the U.S. Census continues to be the leading source of the indicators we’ll count on to guide our work on our most vexing challenges in the decade to come, so we know that we all need to count.

2 responses to “Why the Census Matters II: Social Indicators

  1. Totally true! Brookings has good report recently out showing how much census has impact money flows, etc.

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