Op-Ed: U.S Census, a vital tool for infrastructure and environmental planning
In less than two weeks the period to fill out the decennial census will end and still a number of Puerto Ricans have not completed this process — through the provided form — via the internet, mail or telephone. The number of auto-responses is 34.1%, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Unlike the United States, where the Census is vital for the allocation of congressional districts — thus, there is a rush to fill it out — in Puerto Rico, the Census is important for social and economic planning.
Although many people know the Census as a headcount tool to gather general data on the population and communities, only 30% of the people who respond it understand that the most significant reason for completing it is that it impacts the allocation of public funds.
This, according to a study carried out by the Census Bureau in 2018. Failure to collect accurate information can have serious consequences for Puerto Rico in the allocation of funds for infrastructure and environmental planning.
Poor infrastructure can be detrimental to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of Puerto Ricans. Without data, public policy decisions cannot be made, funds cannot be raised to establish and operate regulatory programs, and human health cannot be safeguarded. It is not just for funding for new infrastructure. The maintenance of existing infrastructure in the island depends on the data compiled by the Census
Investments in infrastructure, as a general rule, have a multiplier effect on the economy. A 2014 study from the University of Maryland found out that infrastructure investments added up to $3 to GDP growth for every dollar spent, with a greater effect during a recession.
Spending and investments in infrastructure also add jobs to the economy and are necessary to attract investment, as has been the recent case of attracting pharmaceutical industries to the island. Without data, it is impossible to know what the impact of these industries would be on the existing infrastructure and the investment necessary for these industries to establish themselves.
The most recent Infrastructure Rating of Puerto Rico, from the American Society of Civil Engineers scorecard, gave the island an overall average of D-. Much of our vital infrastructure was built more than five to six decades ago, and in the past decade has been hit by a Category 4 hurricane and several earthquakes. Census data will be vital for planning, repairing and building new roads, bridges, sanitary trunks, treatment plants and landfill systems, among others.
Puerto Rico has an environmental data gap. Much of the data resides with individual agencies (state or federal) or is data collected by academia, NGOs, environmental groups, or private industry.
In this regard, the Census is of importance as its data is employed for the development of public policies in the environmental and public health area, emergency management and resilient urban development according to the population that resides today in Puerto Rico and its concentration.
If you haven’t filled out the Census, don’t wait until tomorrow. The stakes are high. Visit https://my2020census.gov. It’s not just about counting citizens or a demographic tool. The data gathered in the Census shapes our future.
It is in our hands that the necessary economic allocations are granted for a resilient Puerto Rico and whose vital infrastructure can serve the best needs of the population during the next decade.