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• Nielsen CEO David Kenny has written a New York Times op-ed piece taking a political stance, objecting to a citizenship requirement that has been proposed by the Trump administration for the 2020 census.

The background is this: The Department of Commerce announced that the 2020 Census would include a question about citizenship status, which never had been included in the survey. The decision was objected to by activists and institutions maintaining that the requirement would lead to parts of the population in certain parts of the country being undercounted, which would lead to some states and municipalities receiving less in federal benefits than they are entitled to.

More than 30 states, cities and counties opposed Treasury’s proposal, and New York State actually won a lawsuit, which Treasury then appealed to the US Supreme Court, which will hear the case this week.

In his op-ed, Kenny writes:

“If the government is successful in adding the citizenship question, the census will yield flawed data. This has significant consequences for American businesses, which rely heavily on census data and on the accurate reporting of consumer behavior to make their most critical business decisions.

“A citizenship question will pollute a data set that is foundational for businesses all over the country. The Supreme Court has previously recognized that the census serves as a ‘linchpin of the federal statistical system by collecting data on the characteristics of individuals, households, and housing units throughout the country.’ Presidents from both political parties have recognized that the private sector, like the government, uses the wealth of information generated by the census to make critical business decisions.

“My company, Nielsen, believes that American businesses’ reliance on this data cannot be overstated. As soon as the decennial census data is available, for example, we revise our ranking of the top media markets in the United States, by population. This ‘designated market area’ list is always eagerly anticipated by our clients, and it has a direct impact on how advertisers spend their money.”

Kenny goes on: “In the era of big data, an accurate census is more critical than ever. We know that big data sets have inherent structural biases, and those biases require calibration to a ‘truth set,’ which in almost all cases is benchmarked to the census. Even a small error in the census can be amplified over and over again as the data is used in new and ever evolving ways. The last thing that business needs is for the next 10 years of data to be built on a faulty foundation.”

Kenny argues that “this truth set is more critical now than it has ever been before, as business reflects a changing America. In 2044, white Americans will be a minority. We know that because prior decennial census data has told us so. At that time, Hispanics will constitute 25 percent of the population; African-Americans, 12.7 percent; Asians, 7.9 percent; and multiracial people, 3.7 percent. American businesses are already adapting to this evolving customer base, but they require the best possible data to do so.”
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