Minnesota, consistently a top state in voter turnout, is equally impressive at being counted in the U.S. Census, as it turns out. An astounding 99.9% of Minnesota addresses and housing units were accounted for in the every-10-year count, the U.S. Census Bureau reported this week.
And that was despite the challenges of COVID-19 and the 11th-hour federal decision to cut off counting a month earlier than expected.
Now, before puffing our chests out too far, it must be noted that every state but one achieved that same nearly perfect 99.9% of housing units and addresses accounted for — and that one state, Louisiana, reached 99.0%, despite hurricanes Laura and Delta. It’s also not clear how well the 2020 Census did at counting everyone living at those addresses or in reaching and counting those who are homeless or transient.
Nonetheless, “Every decennial census makes history, but this was like no other in living memory,” Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham declared in a statement Monday sent to media, including the News Tribune Opinion page. “Our first look at the data collection operation indicates an extremely successful execution.”
The nation’s nearly 400,000 census employees — including 2,400 temporary census workers across St. Louis County — can be applauded for making contact, whether by phone or in-person, to close the gap between the 67% of addresses and housing units in the U.S. that responded on their own to the census this year and the 99.9% that eventually were reached. The national self-response rate in 2020 was half a percentage better than in 2010.
“After a decade of global decline in census and survey participation, along with the challenges presented by COVID-19, we had not expected to beat the 2010 self-response rate,” Dillingham said. “This would not have been possible without our partners and new technologies … (which) contributed to our efforts to achieve a complete and accurate count of the nation’s population. The internet proved to be the easiest and preferred option for self-reporting.”
Minnesota boasted the nation’s-best 75.1% of housing units and addresses that responded on their own, without needing to be contacted. That was a percentage point better than in the 2010 Census. Self-responding reached as high as 88.5% in census tracts within Duluth.
“Each and every partner played an important role, whether they hung posters in store windows, formed a Complete Count Committee, hosted a Census Solutions Workshop in their community, encouraged their employees to respond, or highlighted why the census is important for their social media followers,” Dillingham said. “These efforts were vital in our shared work to encourage all communities to participate.”
Participation in the census is critical to local communities. Every response means $2,796 per year in funding from D.C. for programs like student loans, food stamps, energy assistance, and highway construction. There are 55 large federal spending programs that determine, based on census figures, how much gets sent to cities like Duluth. An accurate count also means appropriate political representation, as district boundaries for elected bodies — from city council to Congress — are set according to census findings.
Through the city’s communications department, Duluth Census Coordinator Kathy Wilson declined to comment for this editorial because census findings aren’t finalized yet. The city referred questions to a Census Bureau coordinator in Duluth who wasn’t able to be reached.
Findings from the 2020 Census are only beginning to be made public. But 99.9% of all households and addresses accounted for in Minnesota and across the nation can already be counted as a success.