Business | 11.25.19

A letter from our CEO: What a Census undercount means for the private sector


Dan Wagner
Founder and CEO

Below is an open letter to the business community from Civis Founder and CEO, Dan Wagner.

I’m writing today about something near and dear to my data-driven heart: the 2020 U.S. Census. I’m not asking for anything — I just want to make sure that I share my data science perspective on the Census for the wider business community.

Here’s the context: The Wall Street Journal’s “Numbers” column from last week discussed the consequences of including the citizenship question on Census response rates. It’s pretty clear: including the citizenship question will reduce response rates across the board, but especially in new, more diverse communities. These uneven response rates would negatively influence fair political representation and federal disbursements.

But why should you, as a business person, care about the citizenship question on the Census?

The answer is simple: the Census is the most important dataset we use as data scientists, business analysts, and general nerds to tell you where and often how to invest business resources across the country. If the data is wrong, then the research, market and product recommendations we give you will be wrong — and it will be impossible to fix for ten years.

In other words: ‘Garbage in, garbage out.’

So let’s get specific. What kind of decisions could go wrong?

We know one of the most challenging exercises we go through every day as business people is understanding the market, detecting market signal, and targeting and engaging with our customers. Every business — big or small — goes through this.

Objective and unbiased population data affects everything we do as business people. What products to build, how to market them — even where to locate our offices.

Imagine conducting market research to understand demand, feature appeal, and pricing. Then field testing and creating a targeted marketing campaign. Most of us start with customer research — and whether you know it or not, almost every customer data set is somehow improved and augmented by Census data.

Imagine determining where to locate your office. You need to understand not only geography and infrastructure, but the people and communities. You are determining access to customer markets, potential employee talent pools and being part of the business community. Your operations teams are most likely starting their local research with Census population data.

The best information to understand the market and where we do business is a clear, unbiased view into the American population to research the market, estimate price and feature demand, test your product in the field and make important operations decisions. A good Census that counts everyone is the ‘clear, unbiased view.’

The Census is our baseline of truth.

Whether you’re a multi-billion dollar corporation or a small business, we all have a stake in ensuring an accurate count. The validity of American statistics relies on it, and so does our ability to rely on accurate population data.

Thank you,
Dan Wagner
CEO of Civis Analytics