We’re counting on you, Burnsville.
The 2020 census is six months away. Soon, census takers will roam the nation in the largest peacetime mobilization in American history, trying to ensure that every last one of us gets counted this time.
We missed a few last time.
More than a few.
“You Belong Here.” The words, stenciled onto the sidewalk like a welcome mat, greet everyone who walks into Burnsville City Hall. Inside, Elizabeth Kautz, longtime mayor of this south metro community, met last week with community leaders and census officials, poring over maps and demographic tables. There are two Burnsvilles. The thriving, diverse city outside, and the one on paper.
Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, Burnsville’s population of 60,220 increased to 60,306. An increase on paper of just 86 people.
Burnsville is home to large populations of renters, immigrants, students, small children and snowbirds who will still be down south when the census forms arrive on April 1 — all populations that are statistically likely to end up undercounted in the decennial census.
Every person who wasn’t counted cost Burnsville.
The city missed out on funding for roads, for schools, and for any other state and federal program that relies on population data and demographics to award funding, Kautz noted to other members of the Burnsville Complete Count Committee.
Complete count committees are organizing in every corner of the state: planning outreach into hard-to-count communities, trying to reassure residents that they can trust the Census Bureau after months of Trump administration efforts to politicize the count.
“We’ve been doing this since 1790. We’re up to the task of getting everyone counted,” census specialist Jim Accurso told the Burnsville Complete Count Committee on Thursday. And the count, he repeated over and over, is confidential.
If people don’t believe Accurso, maybe they’ll believe their local librarian, or their minister or imam, or their children when they come home from school after a classroom lesson in statistics and the U.S. census. The biggest part of the complete count effort will be finding trusted voices in the community to get the word out and get the count up.
“The biggest thing for me, as an immigrant, is understanding the fear in the immigrant communities,” said Renita Fisher, an operational risk consultant and member of the Complete Count ommittee. “Especially understanding how immigrants are targeted and how many [might fear] that, ‘Hey, if I give information to the census, I could be potentially deported.’ ”
Fisher, who came to Burnsville by way of Guyana, hopes to be able to address her neighbors’ fears point by point, and to reach out to immigrant-run businesses in the community to help the community leaders there do the same.
“Our Latinx shops … our Somali shops,” she said, “you go in and you talk to people one on one. It’s important to tell folks why this is important, why this matters to you.”
The census answers America’s questions about itself. It tells us who we are. Which of our communities are growing, which of our demographics are shifting. The census will decide whether Minnesota sends eight representatives to Congress in the next decade or just seven.
All the money you pay in taxes? Census data determines how much of it makes its way back to you: to fix the roads and fund the schools and help your neighbors heat their houses through a Minnesota winter.
Hundreds of federal programs rely on census data: Medicaid, student loans, the school lunch program, federal highway funds, Head Start, food stamps, Section 8, rural development grants. More than half the states are paying the price for census undercounts. George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy crunched the numbers and found 37 states that forfeited millions of dollars to census undercounts.
Vermont lost an estimated $2,309 for each person missed in the 2010 census. Wisconsin might have lost $1,338 per person to the undercount. South Dakota’s loss estimate was $1,179 per head.
Minnesota missed out on $0 in this analysis, because Minnesotans excel in paperwork and civic virtue. Good job, Minnesota.
But even here, in the state where 81% of the population filled out their 2010 census forms on the first try, without follow-up nagging from census takers, undercounts can cost communities dearly.
Just ask Census Man.
Masked and caped, Census Man fights for truth, accuracy and a complete census count of the Circle Pines population … 5,000ish?
In 2010, 90% of this Anoka County suburb filled out their census forms, which sounds pretty good until you realize that the final tally came to 4,910 people.
The 10% undercount dropped the population below 5,000 — and below the threshold for state highway aid. The city got a waiver and got its road funding, but that could change if the 2020 count also comes up short.
The man behind the mask, City Council Member Dean Goldberg, has been appearing as Census Man at community events for months, trying to make the 2020 census unforgettable.
“Without those dollars, or if they went down, we’d have to cut services or we’d have to raise taxes,” Goldberg told Fox 9 in May.
Do you rent? You count. Do you have small children? They count. Not a citizen? You count. Everyone counts. We’re counting on you.