Can the U.S. Census Bureau predict the future?

Did the U.S. Census Bureau ever hear of game-changer Lance Gilman? (AP Photo/The Las Vegas Sun, Kyle Roerink)

Did the U.S. Census Bureau ever hear of game-changer Lance Gilman? (AP Photo/The Las Vegas Sun, Kyle Roerink)

Every 10 years, demographers and marketers use the result of the national census to forecast coming trends, thus preparing businesses for what may lie ahead.

But, is the census all that reliable? In our fast-paced world, events can skew statistics almost overnight causing unanticipated ripple effects throughout the business world. Can the Bureau anticipate men such as Lance Gilman, Governor Brian Sandoval or Elon Musk, who with a stroke of their pen can forever the fortunes of our region?

The U.S. Census is mandated by Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, and every five years is updated under the Economic Census to measure the health of the U.S. economy. The original intent of the census was “to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, define legislative districts, school districts and other functional areas of government.” According to the website, today, “the mission is to serve as the leading source of quality data about the nation’s people and economy.” Many marketers still use the census data as their marketing bible to predict future trends.

Federal and state demographers consider the study of humanity a science; however, humans are not as predictable as they once were. When the census first was mandated, we were a homogenous nation. We haven’t been homogeneous for a long time. There were no technological advances changing the world and its people in an instant. The population was stable. In contrast, today, by the time the census results are analyzed and published, the data is outdated. The influx of immigrants has changed our world as have the entrepreneurs and government officials not afraid to take a chance.

Today’s generations are unpredictable and nothing like the generation that bore them. The Baby Boomers were followed with much trepidation – and still are. How could society absorb this many people all coming through the world at the same time? Then the hue and cry became, how would society cope when they exited at the same time?

Then there was the Baby Bust or GenX generation. Boomers just didn’t reproduce to the numbers forecasted, followed then by the concern of who was to support the Boomers in their old age since the GenX generation was far too small to generate the tax revenues needed to support the Boomers in their retirement.

Then it was the GenX’ers turn to surprise demographers. They produced children in numbers not seen in previous generations. In fact, they had so many babies, the Millennials are now America’s largest generation, hopefully able to take care of their parents and grandparents — that is, once they are no longer supported by those parents/grandparents.

Demographers predicted the sky would fall as the Baby Boomers came of retirement age about 8 years ago. They predicted a workforce exodus that could cripple the workplace since there were not enough GenX’ers to fill the spots and the Millennials were still too young. Businesses prepared for the worst. The scramble began to develop robots.

As they have all their lives, the unpredictable workaholic Boomers just defied convention. The mass exodus did not occur. That same exodus is being predicted yet again. We shall see. The only Boomers seeming to retire are those who work in government and have stable pensions.

It appears the Millennials will be just as unpredictable. They are not marrying as early and having children much later than any previous generation. Demographers are sure to wail about this soon predicting dire consequences of this action, for who will take care of the Millennials once they are of retirement age? History just may just repeat itself, as it usually does.

Once again, attempting to lump people into a specific category or predict the future is the least predictable of all “sciences.” While demographers assert their stats are to be used as a template of the future, the reality is no one can predict the future. As we have seen, the economy can be rolling along and poof, the bubble bursts creating unintended consequences.

Or, one decision or action could change the entire fortunes of a city or region.

We doubt demographers had yet met or heard of real estate developer Lance Gilman, owner of the Reno Tahoe Industrial Center. How could they know in 2010 — the date of the last official census — that in 2014 Governor Brian Sandoval and his economic development team would bring Northern Nevada out of the economic doldrums by signing into law tax incentives to attract some of the world’s most attractive companies — like Tesla and Panasonic — that were courted by Lance Gilman?

Columnist Karen Weise writes in Bloomberg Businessweek (6/22/17) “Not long ago, Reno was a home foreclosure capital and fading casino town. Today, Reno is starting to look like Silicon Valley.” Even those in the economic development sector in Reno did not realize with just a stroke of the governor’s pen, Reno would become a “hipster haven” and on the radar of those who want to live in a “cool” city.

Will Carson City attract the Millennials and GenX’ers now flocking to Reno? According to demographers, there won’t be much spill over. Millennials prefer jobs that challenge them and allow their creativity to shine, talents not often needed in government dominated capital cities. Plus, we still have some challenges to overcome: new apartments, more restaurant choices, thriving night life, affordable housing. Until these challenges are met, the demographers might be right, but as we continue to see, things can change in an instant!

Is there a Lance Gilman soon to announce some major event in our city? You never know. We can say we are ready for whatever good comes our way. Now, we must take care of the rest of the city as we have taken care of the downtown.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment