How Simple Census Data Can Inform the Future of Work

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Every 10 years, the US embarks on an ambitious survey known as the Census.  Demographers, politicians and urban planners use this data to gain a deeper understanding of the American people who comprise our population.

Census data can also serve as a valuable tool for futurists and savvy investors to glean upcoming workforce trends.

First, a quick refresher: Our forefathers wrote an official count of the US population directly into the Constitution and the first census was conducted in 1790. Every ten years, the Census Bureau counts every single person living in the United States.  This data determines the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives allocated to each state. 

In 1890, there was a contest to analyze census data and the Hollerith Machine — one of the first computers — was the winner. Truly, it is one of the world’s most interesting data sets and though the political ramifications are hard to ignore, the census also drives innovation (and always has).

Emerging businesses to reach emerging populations

Today  we can comb through the data in innumerable ways and if you look hard enough, crucial trends emerge.

For example, we learned from the 2010 Census that “1 in 4 people will be the age 65 or older by 2040,” indicating that the U.S. population is aging.  A few years later, the private equity and venture capital markets began pouring capital into elder care businesses, cited as a 7 trillion dollar opportunity.  According to CrunchBase, in just the last year, 1.7 billion of venture capital was invested into 5 of the top early-stage elder care technology concepts.

One pre-existing business focused on at-home elder care exploded after these data were released.  By 2014 investors had coined the term “Care Economy” to highlight the opportunity of building businesses that address our aging population.

Similarly, the 2010 Census indicated that birth rates in America were slowing down, which analysts attributed to the fact that millennial women of child-bearing age were delaying marriage and motherhood. The takeaway? Women would soon comprise the majority of the workforce (51%).

Not surprisingly, a bevy of businesses tailored to working women entering the workforce emerged, then surged. These businesses applied a gender lens, understanding that, in the words of Helen Gurly Brown, women “want to have it all.”

In recent years, we have seen more women freezing their eggs to increase flexibility in when to start a family — and more companies springing up to help them do so.  Other business concepts catering to the modern woman’s needs include coworking spaces that offer childcare, and ample networking online and off.

We can anticipate that this market will grow substantially over the next decade.

Preparing for the future workforce

The 2010 Census reported that half of children under five in the U.S. are non white.  The workplace of tomorrow will likewise represent a population that is at least 50% non white.  Smart businesses will increase investments in D&I now to ensure their workforce reflects this diversity.

The 2010 Census indicated some 25% of the American workforce was considered “work from home.” Experts predicted that by 2020 that number would reach half.  Sure enough, bolstered by Covid-19 precautions, 56% percent of the American workforce holds a job that can be done from home. 

Based on this trend, we can imagine several future companies centered on the 1099 or remote-work economy.  These could include online virtual networking hubs, mobile games that help people learn new skills, and AI calendar applications that organize your meetings for you.

And what about corporate America? The remaining blue chip businesses will need to harness technology  to nurture and cultivate talent.  Chat-based HR tech tools allowing employees within an organization to feel seen and heard (virtually) are on the horizon. 

How to Apply 2020 Census results

Look carefully at the data that emerge from the 2020 Census.  Are Americans moving away from cities due to the pandemic? Are gender and diversity continuing to rise in the workforce? Are people staying in the workforce longer or retiring earlier? Which professions are on the rise?

Too often, companies act on assumptions about who their consumers and potential consumers are. The census is full of surprises, updating our definition of America every ten years.

If the population is aging, that suggests one set of needs. If meanwhile, the younger generations are more diverse than ever before, companies may need to revolutionize their recruiting efforts ASAP.

If elder care boomed after the 2010 Census, what trends revealed in the new report will lead to the big ideas of tomorrow? While population data may seem simple in retrospect, companies that focus early on the 2020 Census results will have a headstart in shaping their businesses to align with the future of work.

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