BAXTER -- A lot’s on the line for the state of Minnesota once the 2020 U.S. Census officially commences next summer.
Few topics seem as dry at first glance as the U.S. Census -- or, the official tally of all people residing within the United States taken once every 10 years. But, in many ways, the census shapes how the country will look to serve its roughly 330 million people -- which, in turn, equals out to $675 billion in federal funding and how it’s doled out to affect 140 million households.
For Minnesota, the final numbers may determine just how much of a say the state has in Congress, said U.S. Census partnership specialist Sarah Priest. Priest spoke to attending members of the Brainerd chapter of the Minnesota League of Women Voters during a presentation Thursday, Sept. 12, at Prairie Bay Restaurant.
In 2010, Minnesota barely eeked out enough of a population footprint to justify its current eight congressional seats, just as it’s had going back decades. In total, 8,000 people made the difference. For 2020, it looks to be a nail-biter again, she said, with an expected toss-up that could tilt roughly 20,000 in either direction.
That means the state needs to get as accurate of a tally as possible, she said, so as to ensure Minnesotans don’t lose power in federal government over sloppy numbers.
“We’re on the bubble again,” she said. “It’s not that Minnesota isn’t growing, it’s that we’re not growing as rapidly as other states. As a Minnesotan from Duluth and northeast Minnesota, I want as much political power working for us as we can.”
That’s easier said than done. It can be difficult to get the final tally when there’s rising distrust of government agencies on one hand, she said, while demographics are shifting in a way that complicates the process. Respondents may be approached by census-takers, or they can respond via phone, online and old-fashioned mail.
Apartment renters. Senior citizens. Millennials. Non-native English speakers. These are among a host of demographic groups that pose as particularly difficult, Priest said, which should also indicate just how far-ranging and comprehensive the challenges are to get an accurate tally.
As such, the state of Minnesota is looking to fill thousands of employment slots to staff the upcoming U.S. Census. Low-level employees can make $14 an hour and 58 cents per mile for travel reimbursement to knock on doors, for example, said Priest, who noted hours are flexible and opportunities could be granted to non-citizens and people younger than 18 to fill the gaps. The vast majority will be U.S. Census takers (or, door-knockers) or field supervisors.
“Anybody remember 2010? We were coming off a recession. People were hungry for work, we had no problem getting applicants,” Priest said. “What’s it like today? Everyone's hiring. We have a really low unemployment rate. We’re desperate for people.”
For Crow Wing County, the goal is 770 applicants for consideration, Priest said. At this time, 155 are in the books -- not bad with a year to go, she noted.
The U.S. Census Bureau is fiercely protective of its information, Priest said, noting it has -- despite being challenged in court on different occasions -- never released sensitive information to landlords, law enforcement or other entities. In fact, genealogical information cannot be released until 72 years after the census. Computers carried by federal organizers have to be reported missing within 60 minutes of losing their locations.
Work is beginning now to map out an accurate map in terms of addresses and living situations, she noted, while the U.S. Census looks to begin its most intensive six-month stretch from April to September, 2020.
“This is for the good of the community. This is community service,” Priest said. “All of you are engaged with volunteer work -- this is the same thing, but you get paid for it. The U.S. Census is so important to Minnesota, to Crow Wing, to Brainerd and Baxter. It’s for the good of your country, filling out the census and participating in it yourself.”
UPDATE: This story was updated to note the U.S. Census Bureau does not have an exact figure for the number of workers it intends to hire in Minnesota. The need can change based on how many people fill out the census themselves.
The Dispatch regrets the error.