Being counted in the next federal census makes a difference

The actual collection of information is a year away, but awareness needs to be beefed up now about how important it is for Minnesota residents to participate in the 2020 census.

The attempt to count everyone — not just U.S. citizens but anyone who lives here — is a big undertaking that should be as accurate as possible. The U.S. Supreme Court would be wise reject the Trump administration’s attempt to put a citizenship question on the survey. The Census Bureau estimates adding a citizenship question would lower response rates among noncitizens, leading to an increased cost to the government of at least $27.5 million for additional phone calls, visits to homes and other efforts to reach them.

A lot counts on an accurate number. The data, constitutionally required to be collected every 10 years, help direct priorities for federal money, guide city policy and determine how many congressional seats each state gets. And that’s just a few examples.

It was the 2010 census that determined the Greater Mankato area had enough population, at about 50,000 people, to be classified as a metropolitan statistical area. Being an MSA meant the area automatically qualified for federal funding — now about $350,000 a year — that it had competed for in the past.

Also as result of that same count, a metropolitan planning organization, or MPO, was created here, guiding short- and long-term transportation spending. Studies on how to develop the Highway 22 corridor and Riverfront Drive were among those that benefited from the new resources that came with the MPO.

The city even uses census information to determine how to divide up patrol areas of police officers so they have a similar number of people in their assigned neighborhoods. The need for housing can be determined by analyzing census numbers.

Cities and counties aren’t the only entities to benefit from good information. The data can tell planners about the size and location of upcoming assisted-living facilities and schools. The information is necessary for communities to make solid economic decisions based on projected needs. Building schools and care centers takes time.

Residents who are leery of filling out government census forms should know that under law, census information is secret. Census takers are prohibited from sharing your information with anyone, including police, immigration officials, landlords and child welfare officials. The penalties of breaking that law can include up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Census records are sealed for 72 years.

So if you are a college student, a jail inmate, a nursing home resident or a child, you should be among the counted.

Let’s make sure the April 1, 2020, Census Day kickoff isn’t a fool’s errand. Too much is at stake for Minnesota.

— The Free Press of Mankato