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Supreme Court 2020 census citizenship decision is win for US business

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On Thursday, the Supreme Court at least temporarily blocked the White House from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census. While the question may still appear, it’s significantly less likely — and that’s a huge win for businesses.

If allowed, a citizenship question could lead to an undercount of anywhere from 900,000 to just over 6 million people — about as many as live in Nebraska, Maine, New Hampshire, and Hawaii combined — especially in new, more diverse communities.

Why? It’s simple: People are afraid. Study after study has found that immigrants and other minority groups would not respond for fear that the information would be used against them. Even the Census Bureau, the organization that understands the process better than anyone, agrees.

There are important political motivations and implications associated with this debate, but those are well-documented. What isn’t widely understood is the damage the question would inflict on the American business community — damage that could be impossible to fix for 10 years.

Just about every company in every industry knows the importance of “data-driven decisions.” Population data guides everything from what products to build to how to market them, and even where to locate offices.

But what if the data is inherently flawed? The census is the most important data set that people like me — the “numbers people” — use to recommend where and how to invest business resources across the country. If the data is wrong, the whole thing snowballs from there. Our research, marketing, and product recommendations? All wrong too.

Essentially, “garbage in, garbage out.”

Product and marketing teams use customer and market research to understand competition, feature appeal, and pricing for new offerings. From there, they field-test and develop a targeted marketing campaign. Almost every customer data set is somehow improved and augmented by census data.

Imagine trying to do this for a Spanish-language service knowing that the Spanish-speaking population is at high risk of being undercounted. The census data couldn’t be trusted.

Operations teams need to understand not only geography and infrastructure but people and communities when picking locations for offices and other facilities. Hospitals use census numbers to forecast how much capacity they need, to ensure enough beds for patients. Hotels use census data to understand and identify the best locations for new properties. Access to customer markets, potential employee talent pools, the overall business community — that’s all most likely informed by research using census population data.

All of these decisions require a clear, unbiased view of the American population. An accurate census that counts everyone is the clear, unbiased view.

The census is our baseline of truth.

Every business of every size has a stake in ensuring an accurate count. The validity of American statistics relies on it.

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