Census Bureau should revise Marshall’s population total

Four years after Census 2020, the mystery of Marshall’s population decline has yet to be solved.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the city posted a decline of 52 residents in 2020. It meant that Marshall is no longer the largest city in southwestern Minnesota since Worthington’s total was higher.

The city has a logical reason for disputing the census figure. A pandemic like COVID is not the best time to do a census count in a college town. Because of remote learning, many students were not present at the Southwest Minnesota State University campus.

Ward One, which includes the campus and nearby apartments, was the only ward to have population loss. Ward Two and Ward Three gained. That’s an indication that the college was undercounted.

I’m happy that U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach wrote a letter to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s a great example of bi-partisanship, of an effort by both parties to help a local community.

Hopefully, the Bureau will respond by working with the city. They haven’t given a good explanation for why a revised population total can’t be made public. The census is a big deal. It affects the amount of federal and state aid given to local governments. If Marshall’s total was understated, the city should be paid the difference in government aid with interest.

By all indications, Marshall is a growing community. A substantial amount of construction is planned near the Channel Parkway. Several other parts of town are also seeing new homes and new business sites.

Marshall remains a regional center for education, a regional center for health care, a major retail center and a place with a large amount of agribusiness and industry.

It’s critical that a rural region of Minnesota gets credit for examples of economic growth. The region continues to decline in terms of overall population. All smaller counties have had lower populations with every new census.

The 1950s were in many ways a golden age for small towns. They had doctors, dentists, movie theaters, eating places and various downtown businesses. They built swimming pools and golf courses.

Since then society has gradually become more urban. There aren’t as many young families in small towns. Schools have consolidated. Some of the businesses have closed.

It’s not likely that things will go back to mid 20th century standards. Instead we’ll have to find new ways to sustain our communities.

It involves working as a region to create jobs and to provide services. Rural towns are good places to live, work and raise families. They’re good places to retire.

Addressing Marshall’s census question would be a good step in that direction. It’s good that city officials didn’t simply accept the surprising results. Instead they questioned it. It’s not been an easy process. It’s complicated to dispute a large agency like the Census Bureau. They don’t like to admit to making mistakes.

The process shouldn’t stop now. There might need to be further letters and calls to work with the city. It will require public interest and public involvement.

It might set a new precedent. With Census 2030 there might be other communities who will believe they were undercounted. There should be a clear, simple process for reviewing such claims.

Meanwhile there’s still no simple answer to Marshall census question. We should continue to seek the answers.

— Jim Muchlinski is a longtime reporter and contributor to the Marshall Independent


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