Legally mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the census is an effort to count all people living on American soil for the primary purpose of apportioning political representation in the federal government. Census data are also used for drawing political boundaries for local, state and federal elections.

Government agencies must use decennial census data, often coupled with data from the American Community Survey, to help determine government funding for rural development, infrastructure and health initiatives.

Census counts are also used to determine what places are considered rural or urban and where counties fall along the rural-urban continuum.

Researchers focusing on rural America, like myself, are concerned with many issues that census data can help us to understand.

For instance, the rate of population loss in rural America has declined and even slightly reversed in recent years. However, there can be vast differences between regions. As noted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s John Cromartie and Dennis Vilorio, “People moving to rural areas tend to persistently favor more densely settled rural areas with attractive scenic qualities, or those near large cities. Fewer are moving to sparsely settled, less scenic, and more remote locations, which compounds economic development challenges in those areas.”

2020 census data will help to improve demographers’ calculations of similar statistics to show rates and patterns of net migration. This information can be used to help leaders better understand and plan for population shifts.

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