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Census Immigration Question Accuracy Risks Billions of Corporate Dollars, May Impact Services

US Census Citizenship Question
Image from the United States Census Bureau

by John-Mark de Palma

“Is this person a citizen of the United States?” As the 2020 US Census approaches, concerns surrounding this question are being voiced all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. Dubbed the ‘citizenship question,’ business leaders fear that its inclusion will impact the corporate bottom line and skew decision-making metrics.

While the census determines Electoral College vote distribution and the demarcation of Congressional and legislative districts, it is used in a myriad of public policy and budgetary decisions. Many of these affect citizens and non-citizens alike and the communities they call home. However, a lesser known dependent on the census data are business and corporations. They use the census data to drive how money is spent, how services are offered to communities of color, and plan for the future.

The demographic information gathered through the census, such as sex, age, race, ethnicity and housing status of all US residents, helps to inform business about their present and potential customers. It helps to inform where new business are located and what those new consumers may purchase. 

Many businesses fear that the reintroduction of the citizenship question may impact the accuracy of the census data, especially as it pertains to communities of color and immigrants. This concern is expressed in a recent US Supreme Court brief filed by over 24 companies, including Ben and Jerry’s Homemade, Lyft, Uber, Warby Parker, Lush Cosmetics, Univision, Levi Strauss, and 3 area Chambers of Commerce. 

As an example of how census data impacts corporate decision making, Christine Pierce, senior VP of data science at Neilson said in an interview with WNYC, "If there is an [census] undercount, that could carry through to our audience estimates and could mean that people will make decisions based on data that isn't as accurate as it should be.” Nielsen estimates that $90 billion in TV and video advertising is tied to the accuracy of census data. 

Major corporations have embarked on campaigns to educate their consumers on the importance of participation. Some companies, such as Univision, began airing public service announcements with the objective of raising awareness for the census. According to a recent report by NPR, the Census Bureau is actively seeking additional promotional partnerships with corporations such as McDonalds, Luvs, Procter & Gambles, J.M. Smucker Company, and Pampers. 

While the question of citizenship made an appearance on US Census forms from the 1860s through 1950, when it was dropped from the standard census form, three Federal judges have ruled against its the reintroduction in 2020. The issue is now before the United States Supreme Court. The census determines how more than $675 billion of federal funding will be distributed for schools, roads and other public services in local communities. 

Related Content: 

2020 Census Efforts Underway: Immigrant Participation is Key | Catholic Charities of New York 
Companies That Rely On Census Data Worry Citizenship Question Will Hurt | WNYC 

What's New in the 2020 Census | Catholic Charities of New York