When the COVID-19 pandemic struck this year, disrupting normal life for many Americans and delaying the launch of a nationwide effort to count every man, woman and child residing in the United States, the Census Bureau announced that it would push back the original data collection deadline from Aug. 15 to Oct. 31.

But in August, a new deadline was announced, Sept. 30 — now just a couple weeks away.

Kathy Wilson, census coordinator for the city of Duluth, has been working diligently with a collection of about 80 local organizations that have formed the Complete Count Committee to orchestrate a communitywide outreach effort, using their networks and social media to make a final push for participation.

The cost of an undercount could be high, noted Noah Schuchman, Duluth's chief administrative officer. He pointed to data from the George Washington Institute of Public Policy that showed Minnesota received annual federal funding equivalent of $2,796 for every known resident of the state, based on the census count, which is conducted once every 10 years.

“In Duluth, everyone counts, and everyone matters," he said.

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Schuchman said federal funding for education programs, medical assistance programs, transportation and highway projects, food assistance programs and many other forms of aid are potentially on the line in the event of a significant undercount.

"If you don’t get counted in the 2020 Census, you and our community may risk missing out on getting our fair share of this funding and resources," he cautioned.

Wilson pointed out that besides affecting funding, the census also impacts the political clout different geographic parts of the state and country wield. She also noted that the demographic information affects all sorts of of development and business decisions, such as whether a Trader Joe's store comes to Duluth some day.

"The data really impacts people's everyday lives in ways that maybe they aren't completely aware of," she said.

Kathy Wilson, census coordinator for the city of Duluth, has been working hard to encourage people to participate in the count as a Sept. 30 reporting deadline nears. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Kathy Wilson, census coordinator for the city of Duluth, has been working hard to encourage people to participate in the count as a Sept. 30 reporting deadline nears. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

As of Sept. 14, reports showed 74.5% of Minnesota households and 74.3% of households in Duluth had responded to the census on their own.

For comparison, in 2010, when the last census was taken, self-initiated participation rates came in at 74.1% of Minnesota households and 76.5% of Duluth households.

Wilson noted that for the past month or so, census enumerators have swept out across the state to personally call on unresponsive addresses in hopes of collecting a more accurate population count. To date, she said these workers have been in contact with about 80% of previously unresponsive households in the northern half of the state.

The census is supposed to document where people were living on April 1, 2020, adding to the confusion this year, especially for students and others who may have moved around since then.

For those who are uncertain as to whether they may have already responded to the Census months ago, Wilson recommends people err on the side of reporting again. She noted that Census bureau will still have a few months to crunch its numbers and validate the data before making its final report, now due in December.

Wilson noted that the whole census timeline has been condensed by the pandemic this year.

"It was both delayed and then shortened, which is fun," she said, tongue in cheek.

Wilson also acknowledged unfounded concerns that the census could be used to identify and prosecute undocumented individuals have lingered.

"That has been a concern all along, that even though there is no citizenship question on the census, just the fact that it got so much press, that it was publicized so much, made people concerned," she said

Wilson pointed out that the Census Bureau is required by law to maintain confidentiality and to not disclose any individual household information until 74 years after the date census data was collected. She also stressed that responding to the census is quick and easy.

How to participate

People can participate in the census by mail, reporting their status at my2020census.gov or by calling 844-330-2020.