Everyone counts: Census 2020 data will drive new opportunities, investments in Tampa BayIt's time to fill out Census forms

Part 2 in a series.

Population researchers are gearing up for Census 2020, which will take a snapshot of who is living in the Tampa Bay Area on April 1, or “Census Day,” and reveal important data about the socioeconomic health of our community. There are many critical metrics the Census data will capture, including how many people are living in the region, how old these people are, and also each person’s highest level of educational attainment. 

Public education groups, community leadership organizations, and private business ventures study these decennial figures with great curiosity in order to make decisions about everything from school construction to political representation to neighborhood investments designed to improve the local economic situation and shore up our community weaknesses.

After all, a community in which relatively few people have obtained more than a high school diploma or college degree isn’t as likely to be thriving in ways that create high-wage jobs with opportunities for further advancement. Furthermore, areas in which a larger share of the population has at least a bachelor’s degree are far more likely to see the establishment and expansion of businesses where high-wage jobs are many and promising careers take off.

Numbers tell the story, shape the future

Using educational attainment data derived from the 2010 Census and its subsequent American Community Surveys, 87.3% of Tampa residents age 25 or older hold at least a high school diploma -- about on par with the national average of 87.7%. Moreover, 37.3% of Tampa residents age 25 or older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, representing a figure of about 15% higher than the 2010 national average of 31.5%. But when these figures are broken down by other parameters, troubling disparities between different population groups become clear.

For example, in the 33610 ZIP code, which includes several low-income majority-minority neighborhoods in East Tampa, 83.1% of its residents 25 and older have a high school diploma at most and just 16.4% have at least a bachelor’s degree. By comparison, the South Tampa ZIP code of 33629, which encompasses higher-income neighborhoods spanning from Bayshore Boulevard to Culbreath Isles,  nearly 95%  of residents are white and 97.3% of residents ages 25 or older hold a high diploma; 66.2% have at least a bachelor’s degree. 

The above data breakdown demonstrates a long-entrenched, circular relationship between academic attainment and income background. Without sufficient funds, one generally cannot afford post-secondary education. Yet, without an advanced education, it's significantly more challenging to land a well-paying job. Many public and private organizations offer scholarships, grants, low-interest loans, and other monies to help people afford post-secondary tuition costs. 

Such financial resources are often appropriated and distributed to communities based on the socioeconomic data gathered by the decennial census headcount and information from the subsequent American Community Surveys that are extrapolated on an annual basis from the core decennial census data sets. And this shows why all people need to take part in the 2020 Census -- so local, regional, national, and international educational and philanthropic organizations can better locate communities where talent may be ripe but money and opportunity scarce.

Participation offers residents more resources, opportunities 

“The census -- a once-every-10-years headcount of every person living in the United States -- is as old as the nation itself,” says Maggie Osborn, the senior VP and chief strategy officer of United Philanthropy Forum. “It has been estimated that 16 states will see a shift in reapportionment (losing or gaining seats in Congress) as a result of the 2020 Census. In addition, census figures are used to determine where hundreds of billions of dollars in federal money -- and billions more in state and private sector funds -- are spent every year on infrastructure, schools, health care, factories, stores, and more.”

And the more money spent on community infrastructure, the more opportunities locals have to improve their education and, subsequently, land higher-income jobs at places that pay better wages. Among the most lucrative educational opportunities are those in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) sectors. These exciting, in-demand jobs offer stable income growth and general upward mobility. But landing STEM careers requires a diverse skill set and proper training -- two essentials mostly acquired in the post-secondary realm. 

League of Women Voters of Hillsborough County President Dr. Idelia Phillips notes that female representation in STEM occupations has increased since the 1970s, but that women remain significantly underrepresented in engineering and computer occupations – careers that make up more than 80 percent of all STEM employment. “Conversely, women’s representation in computer occupations has declined since the 1990s.” 

Meanwhile, male science and engineering graduates are employed in a STEM occupation at more than double the rate of women, at 31 percent versus 15 percent. In all, about one in five female science and engineering graduates aren’t in the labor force, compared to less than one in 10 male science and engineering graduates. The disparities are also seen among blacks and Hispanics, who are underrepresented in STEM fields as compared to their share of the population. While 11% of the workforce was black in 2011, only 6% of STEM workers were black. And Hispanics, who made up 15% of the workforce in 2011, held just 7% of STEM jobs. 

STEM degrees among many lucrative academic tracks     

STEM programs are plentiful in Tampa Bay Area schools, and those who seek profitable careers have many options. The key is getting more residents to know these rich educational opportunities exist and then helping those who academically qualify to enter the programs afford the tuition. 

According to occupational information by CareerSource Tampa Bay, there are dozens of fields that are growing both in educational program enrollment and overall career openings but generally require a college degree or, at the very least, a trade certificate. Among these job opportunities are roles for budding accountants, secondary school teachers, marketing specialists, and writers -- all careers paying an average of $20 or more per hour. 

However, some of the most lucrative career opportunities for those in the Tampa area are in the medical sector. Many of the highest-paying medical positions require bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorate’s degrees, but a wide variety of jobs offering much more than minimum wage and the opportunity for advancement are within the reach of those holding an associate’s degree or specialized certificate. 

“It would be great to see some promising numbers in the educational attainment of minorities and an increase in minorities in job categories such as STEM and the medical fields, particularly physicians,” says Phillips. Opening the doors for greater numbers of more diverse Tampans to enter the STEM arena means offering more affordable educational opportunities to residents, regardless of their ZIP code or census tract.

And that means funneling more public and private funds to more people -- particularly those who exhibit academic promise but simply lack access to the scholarships and grants. But that’s not all Phillips hopes for Census 2020.

“I want to see an increase in the [Census] count in hard-to-reach areas of Hillsborough County.” That, she believes, will help community leaders get a much more accurate picture of where the need is greatest for offering more financial and occupational resources -- and discovering who can benefit from them most.

You can take the census online now by visiting the U.S. Census website. If you would like to help count others, go online to Census Jobs

Read part 1 of 83 Degrees' 3-part series on #Census2020 here: Make it count: How Census 2020 benefits the Tampa Bay Area.
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Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a freelance writer who was born and raised in Tampa. He earned his BA in English from the University of South Florida and spent more than three years as a full-time copywriter for a local internet marketing firm before striking out on his own to write for various blogs and periodicals, including TheFunTimesGuide, CoinValue and COINage magazine. He has also authored local history books, including Images of America: Tampa's Carrollwood and Images of Modern America: Tampa Bay Landmarks and Destinations, which are two titles produced by Arcadia Publishing.