Census 2020 shifts into high gear

Minneapolis field office official makes presentation to Murray County Board

SLAYTON — The United States Census Bureau plans to use 21st century technology for public convenience and cost savings, but it still intends to reach down to the grass roots in a way that ensures accurate population counts.

The Murray County Board heard a presentation Tuesday from Jim Accurso of the Census 2020 Minneapolis field office. It is acting as a satellite for the Chicago regional headquarters.

Accurso works for Census 2020 as a partnership specialist, which means he’s one of the organizers of locally-based census awareness efforts.

“The census is the largest peacetime mobilization process in our country’s history,” Accurso said. “It’s still a challenge to count people in the 21st century. Renters and college students frequently move, and people are now much less likely to have land lines.”

He listed several other current trends that are likely to pose obstacles for the 2020 census. They include widespread public distrust in things associated with big government, a decline in the percentage of people who are willing to respond to surveys of any type, and the wide range of flexible informal living arrangements shaped by either family ties or friendships.

Census 2020 will feature some basic differences between earlier counterparts. Instead of receiving a paper form on the first contact, households will get only a postcard mailing that encourages online census participation.

The paper form will only be sent if someone asks for one, or if there’s no reply after several earlier inquiries.

“The basic goal is still motivating everyone to respond,” Accurso said. “We want to give them every option. It’s simple, confidential and safe.”

He listed more than a dozen population groups that are at risk of being undercounted in Census 2020. Some of them are traditionally recognized as less likely to be counted; including low income residents, non-English speakers, and newly established households.

Other categories often aren’t regarded as potentially hard to count. One example is millenials, which under its broadest definition could mean anyone whose life has been influenced more by what’s happened since 2000 than by the 20th century.

Additional groups included on the list were senior citizens, people with disabilities, military veterans, and snowbirds who spend winters in warm climates.

Accurso said the full list shows how rural as well as urban areas need to take an active approach to census participation. Statistics show that Minnesota ranked second among all 50 states in its 2010 self-response rate with 81 percent.

Murray County, however, is an example of a location where self response declined in 2010 from its previous total in Census 2000. The percentage went down from 81 percent in 2000 to 75 percent.

“There’s usually more than one reason for why it declines,” he said. “It’s very important that everyone is included. Many of the ways federal funding is distributed depend at least partly on total population.”

An estimated $675 billion will be given out in program funding during the 2020s, with census numbers at times affecting state, county and city shares.

Success at the local level is likely to depend on finding the right people for temporary census-related employment, those who can develop a network of professionals and interested citizens who will help to spread the word about census activities.

Field offices in Minnesota are located in Minneapolis, Duluth and Rochester. Otherwise temporary census employment involves work-from-home guidelines.

Accurso said most census collection is planned for next spring. Results must be submitted at the federal level by the end of 2020. They will be shared with states and the general public in the first part of 2021.

Jay Trusty, executive director of the nine-county Southwest Regional Development Commission based in Slayton, said communities and townships throughout the region have plenty at stake in whether or not they reach full census counts.

He noted that Minnesota narrowly avoided losing one of its eight congressional House seats in 2010, which puts it near the top of the list to potentially lose a seat in 2020.

Should that happen, the seven remaining House districts could be drawn in a wide variety of ways. One extreme would be to place much of Minneapolis and much of St. Paul into one urban district. Another could be to propose a plan that includes one very large rural district mostly along the southern and western edges of the state.

At times a particular local population count, such as 5,000 or 10,000, might be used as a benchmark by public agencies or businesses to determine potential locations for industries, stores or offices.

“For many reasons, it’s very important to build public interest in the census,” Trusty said. “It’s a big factor in how resources are divided out among states and to local communities.”