Census director underlines importance of rural America

· 3 min read

Census director underlines importance of rural America

Robert Santos, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, delivers a lecture in the Swanson Auditorium of Nebraska Union.
Kristen Labadie | University Communication and Marketing
Robert Santos, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, delivers a lecture in the Nebraska Union's Swanson Auditorium.

The Bureau of Sociological Research hosted Robert Santos, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, March 20 to give a talk about the importance of good data in policymaking and the use of data to help shape the future of communities.

The public lecture at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln was part of BOSR’s 60th anniversary celebration speaker series.

Santos, who was appointed to the directorship in 2022, has been a survey researcher for more than 40 years and shared with the audience the importance of academic-based survey research centers for the services they provide to the communities they serve, as well as the experiential learning opportunities they provide to students.

“I stand on this stage as a product of an academically based survey research organization,” Santos said. “These organizations provide students and staff exceptional opportunities for professional development.”

While talking about some of his past experiences in survey design and methodology, Santos stressed the importance of having diverse perspectives in both designing research experiments and in the cross-sections of people filling out the surveys.

“Everyone can bring a unique perspective or insight, and those life experiences are really important to spark a special type of innovation or creative thinking,” Santos said. “We need to acknowledge that value and include other perspectives in order to achieve better science, better data, more accurate data, better methods.”

Other topics covered the changing demographics in Nebraska, according to census data. Santos pointed out that there is a “Silver Tsunami” happening in the state and nation, with one in six Americans being over 65 in the 2020 Census, but that the number 100 years ago was only one in 20.

“And it’s interesting that in Nebraska, about 27% of the population is rural, which is actually higher than the rest of the United States, which is about 20%,” he said. “So there’s a concentration of rural (residents) here, and it comes from the historical roots of who you are.”

That rural concentration helps Nebraska feed the rest of the United States, Santos said, but it also presents some challenges for equitable access to things like health care, child care and broadband internet. And, those things aren’t only important for the quality of life for rural residents, but to help feed the world through precision agriculture.

“We cannot forget our rural areas or underserved communities,” he said. “When the state is prioritizing, it is important to make sure that people have access because it involves health and wealth, but we can’t forget the perspectives of our unpopulated areas and our agriculture.”

Aside from delivering the lecture, Santos toured the Bureau of Sociological Research; met with faculty, staff and students; and attended a reception. The invited lecture also allowed Santos to spend five days in Nebraska, meeting with various groups, including Nebraska Extension, Black community leaders, Latino-focused organizations and the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research. Santos’ Nebraska tour was covered in the Nebraska Examiner.

The 60th anniversary celebration speaker series continues with a talk, “Why Polls Matter: The Role of Public Opinion in Changing Times,” by Jennifer Agiesta, director of polling and election analytics at CNN, at 12:30 p.m. April 8 in Bessey Hall, room 117.

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