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How the census impacts business

BISMARCK, N.D. - Kevin C. Iverson, census office manager for the North Dakota Department of Commerce, recently answered a number of questions about this year’s census.

It’s a relevant topic for business professionals in the upper Midwest. For instance, how does the census affect companies?

“Businesses are the consumers of census data,” Iverson said. “The data allows them the ability to make decisions on where to invest to further their customers reach. Businesses benefit when funds are available in their community to purchase goods and services.”

Good information, and Iverson shares more below.

What information is usually collected during the census?

The census 2020 survey only asks 10 questions and will only collect data from you about your household status before or on April 1, 2020. The decennial census form only asks:

  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Age
  • Sex
  • Hispanic origin
  • Race
  • Relationship to householder
  • Household tenure (own/rent)
  • Number of persons in the household
  • Does that person usually stay or live somewhere else?

This is all the data that is collected. No additional question should be asked of you. The census will never ask you for your Social Security number, money or donations, political affiliation, or bank or credit card account numbers. There are is no question on citizenship either.

After census 2000, the bureau took the long-form questions and created the American Community Survey (ACS) which gives us more up-to-date estimates throughout the decade.

How is the census used?

The goal is simple: to account for every living person in the U.S. born or living on or before April 1. This primary goal of the census is used to determine the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives, as stated in the U.S. constitutional provisions. After the census 2020, North Dakota is likely to continue to only have one seat in the House of Representatives. This same data is used to draw state legislative districts.

Northwestern North Dakota has seen considerable growth this decade. The three counties that make up Region 1 of the state, Divide, Williston and McKenzie, have seen a growth over 70% since 2010. This area is likely to see greater representation in the legislature after the census.

Over the next decade, lawmakers, business owners and many others will use the 2020 census data to make critical decisions. Billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated to an estimated 186 federal programs, including Medicaid, highway construction funding, Head Start, block grants for community mental health services and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.  

Is this information shared with third parties or is it kept confidential?

The census 2020 data is protected under Title 13 of U.S. code and is not shared with other government agencies, federal, state or local, for a set length of time. The data is eventually released to the public after 72 years, which is the typical lifespan of an adult. Security and privacy are number one with the collection of census data.

Here is more info on this history of privacy/confidentiality:

Here is more on the title code noted:

Why is the census important for me and my community?

A full count – or an undercount – will impact your community. The more people who are accounted for, the more U.S. representatives for the state and the more federal funding communities get.

In 2015 for North Dakota, this added up to $1,910 per person according to the George Washington University Counting for Dollars website, and this figure just considered the 16 largest federally funded programs. 

The decennial census data has a longer life span than probably any other site of statistics we live with. As we live with the decennial census count results for a decade, the impact is likely in the range of $19,100 per person.

The state of North Dakota uses the same data to determine many of its funding allocations as well, so the impact is likely even higher. To make a comparison, if an individual is missed in the census count it’s like not controlling your high blood pressure. Receiving a high blood pressure number at your doctor appointment is unlikely to harm your health initially. It’s the damage high blood pressure can do to the rest of the blood if it’s not properly taken care of that leaves the lasting effects. 

The same is true of a census undercount. The 2020 data is unlikely to negatively impact your community tomorrow. It’s the potential for underfunding for your schools, roads and social networks and lack of consumers’ disposable income that keeps businesses stronger and communities vibrant. This could also make your community less competitive for new opportunities.

North Dakota hopes the 2020 census response rate will reach 85%. But the job is easier said than done.


In what ways does the census impact businesses?

Yes. Businesses are the consumers of census data. The data allows them the ability to make decisions on where to invest to further their customers reach. 

Businesses benefit when funds are available in their community to purchase goods and services. The George Washington University Counting for Dollars program also indicated through the census data that $3,877,526,000 was spent in North Dakota in 2017.


How long does it take an individual to complete the census?

It should take about 10 minutes to complete the census 2020 questions. Starting March 12, you will be able to report online, by mail or over the phone using the code that will be sent to your household. If you would like to report online visit: The census is available in 13 different languages in 2020.

When will the results of the census be published or otherwise made available? 

Information from the Census is required to be sent to the state no later than April 1, 2021. Detailed data will be released to each county, city, census tract and block shortly after that.

How can this benefit individuals and businesses?

For North Dakota businesses, the census is a big deal. North Dakotans’ participation in the census helps determine your community’s share of federal funds that were collected through federal taxes – more than $675 billion each year.

A study conducted after the 2010 census found that nearly 1,000 kids and additional 900 individuals were not counted as North Dakotans. This probably cost the state nearly $34 million in lost funds this decade.

This opportunity won’t come again until 2030, so let’s all complete our civic duty and help to ensure that North Dakota is properly funded and that everyone is represented by the government. Government, businesses, communities and nonprofits will all rely on the data that these questions will produce to make critical decisions and plan for growth in the future.

Keep in mind, we already pay federal taxes into the system for these services, but if we are not counted in North Dakota, then North Dakota is overlooked when accessing those funds.

For more information about the impact for North Dakota and background information on the census, visit