|How the People Use the Census|
Government officials aren't the only ones who will be using Census 2000 data come 2001. People from many walks of life use census data to advocate for causes, research markets, target advertising, locate pools of skilled workers, prevent diseases, even rescue disaster victims.
When Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992, for example, census information aided the rescue effort by providing relief workers with estimates of the number of people missing in each block, as well as detailed maps of whole neighborhoods that had been obliterated.
Senior citizen groups often draw on statistics from the census to support their desire for community centers. The census can show that the number of elderly residents near a proposed center are plentiful and increasing. When county commissioners digest this supporting data, they often cannot argue with the clear evidence that a new senior citizen center is needed.
As businesses try to determine if the market for a new product is large enough or if the product will be accessible to consumers, one source of vital statistics is the census. It shows, on a local, regional or national basis, how many men, women and children live in a specific area, breaking out the data by age and ethnic origin, sex and race, home owners versus renters. Census numbers help businesses reduce their financial risk and broaden their markets.
Nonprofit organizations often use census numbers to estimate the number of potential volunteers in communities across the nation. Developers analyze census data before deciding where to locate a new shopping mall. Male/female distribution will be considered by a dating service before deciding to advertise in an area, and income levels, by an expensive clothing store before investing in a new outlet.
Census statistics help determine where to build more roads (add lanes, install stoplights or lower speed limits, too) and hospitals (or free health clinics) and child-care centers. They also help identify which communities need more federal help for job training, Head Start or the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program, which provides dairy and other nutritional supplements to new and nursing mothers and their children.
In a June 1998 symposium in Houston, Texas, on Census 2000, President Clinton pointed out the importance of census data in creating a bipartisan majority for more funding of the WIC program.
"People know that it makes good sense to feed babies and take care of them and provide for them when they're young," the president said. "But the funds, once appropriated, can only flow where they're needed if there is an accurate count of where the kids are. So, ironically, no matter how much money we appropriate for WIC, unless we actually can track where the children are, the program will be less than fully successful."
At the symposium, Dr. Judith Craven, president of the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast in Houston, spoke about how census data help determine where the most acute social service problems in the community are and where the money the United Way raises from private sources each year for health and human services will be distributed.
"Traditionally, we have been one of the major funders of community planning and analysis," Craven said. As her agency tries to leverage the $64 million it raised in 1997, "it's essential ... that we have accurate data in order to distribute those dollars to those that are most in need -- and in a fair and equitable way."
Dr. Mary desVignes-Kendrick, health director for the city of Houston, told the symposium that "accurate census data is critical to public health. It is not possible for us to do public health without it."
DesVignes-Kendrick, who is immediate past president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, which represents 3,000 local health departments throughout the country, said the census "gives us the denominators for calculating birth rates, death rates, disease incidents and prevalence within the community.
"Any national, state, or local data that you hear about, such as the adolescent birth rate has decreased by X percent -- this is generally based on denominators supplied by the census," she said. "For us to target interventions in a population, to know whether we're having any impact, to measure that impact, it is very important to have accurate census data."