Making Sense of the 2020 Census

James T. Berger headshot

James T. Berger
Senior Marketing Writer

Published August 17, 2021

As mandated by the Constitution, the United States gets a chance to count its population every ten years. The 2020 Census marks the 24th time this process has unfolded.

The key reason for this process is to determine the number of seats each state qualifies for in the U.S. House of Representatives (a process called apportionment) and to redraw electoral districts based on these population distributions. Of equal importance is the resulting allocation of federal funds based on population.

3 ways that you can use census data in your market research efforts

The 2020 census showed a new American mosaic, and one which primarily highlighted changes in the racial and ethnic mixing bowl. The overall population of the country increased by 7.4% to 338 million, which was the slowest growth since the Depression-era 1930s.

A major finding was a significant drop in the number of people who consider themselves to be “white.”  This segment fell from 63.7% of the population to 57.8%. A second major finding is that the under-18 segment of the population is 52.7% non-white.

The data showed significant shifts in the racial, ethnic and voting-age make-up of voting districts. This is the information needed for state legislatures and local governments to redraw political districts.

Ethnically, the largest gains were among Hispanics. This segment has tripled its U.S. population in the last three decades, now numbering 62.1 million people or 18.7% of the 2020 population.

Asian Americans now account for 6% of the U.S. population, which is twice what it was in 1990.

There was a dramatic increase in the number of Americans who consider themselves to be “multiracial.”  In 2010, 9 million people considered themselves to be multiracial. That number increased 276% to 33.8 million in 2020.

The Census also showed a significant geographic shift in the population. The biggest winners in population growth were suburbs and retirement communities in the South and West, including 17% growth in retirement communities. In fact, The Villages, a retirement community in Florida, was the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country during the past 10 years.

Here are three ways that you can use census data in your market research efforts, according to Jenny Dinnen, president of Sales & Marketing at MacKenzie Corporation:

  1. To identify potential sites to locate a business – If you want to open a casual restaurant catering primarily to Hispanic families with young children, the Census’ Interactive Population Map can locate and compare potential sites. You can find population data at the most basic level —  the census block. You can segment data by age, race, ethnicity and housing status, and then compare up to four locations side by side.
  2. To find customers – Once you can define a target market, census data can be used to find geographic areas that have a high concentration of people who meet that customer profile. By understanding the attributes of a target market, census data can hone in on this market through analysis of demography. Census data will enable creation of locations with the highest concentration of people who meet this profile. Marketers can easily rent mailing lists to communicate to these markets.
  3. To identify potential markets for expansion – Another useful tool is the County and Business Demographics Interactive Map (or CBD Map). The CBD Map (and its corresponding Interactive Text page) can be used to help locate areas that have a high concentration of the target demographic. Although the business information is only available at the county level, and the counts are only for broadly defined industries, it can still be quite useful.

About The Author

James T. Berger headshot
James T. Berger, Senior Marketing Writer of The Wiglaf Journal, through his Northbrook-based firm, James T. Berger/Market Strategies, offers a broad range of marketing communications, research and strategic planning consulting services. In addition, he provides expert services to intellectual property attorneys in the area of trademark infringement litigation. An adjunct professor of marketing at Roosevelt University, he previously has taught at Northwestern University, DePaul University, University of Illinois at Chicago and The Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan (BA), Northwestern University (MS) and the University of Chicago (MBA). Berger is an often-published free lance business writer who has developed more than 100 published articles in the last eight years. For more information, visit or telephone him at (847) 328-9633.