You may not be ready to think about the year after next year yet, but the people counters are already gearing up for the 2010 census. And the stakes are high, with government aid and clout on Capitol Hill all in the balance.
The Census Bureau formally launched the Minnesota campaign, with an open house at its headquarters in downtown Saint Paul. The message was clear, from a dozen different speakers that much is riding on getting the big headcount of 2010 done right.
"Folks this is important stuff," Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman told the crowd of community leaders and regional census workers, "It's not just about a number; it's not about bragging rights."
Minnesota's share of federal aid, and Saint Paul's share of state aid, depends in large part on getting an accurate count. The size of Minnesota's Congressional delegation after 2012 will also be determined by the census.
"And the more people that fill out that questionnaire and return it the more accurate that census will be," regional deputy director Sydnee Chatten-Reynolds remarked, "That's what our goal is and we're going to do that by reaching out to you."
Chatten-Reynolds said the Census Bureau will make a concerted effort to partner with communities of color and groups that work with new immigrants, to make sure those historically undercounted populations aren't missed.
The official slogan for the census is "It's in our hands" and the main icon is one large hand made up of smaller hands of many colors.
"To make sure that everybody hears three key pieces," she said, "That the Census is important, that it's safe, and that it's easy."
The Census Bureau has already started hiring initial workers, and will ramp up those numbers when the door-to-door work begins in 2009.
Yusef Mgeni of the Saint Paul Public Schools said it's important those hired are representative of the neighborhoods they're sent into with their clipboards.
"So that people who go around and ask for the information will look like, will respect, be sensitive to, and be able to identify with the people they're requesting the information from," Yusef told the group.
Census workers will begin going door-to-door in February of 2009 to verify addresses for the bureau's mailing list. Census questionnaires will be mailed out beginning the following winter, in February of 2010.
Those who don't return their questionnaires will receive follow-up visits from census takers.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum, the 4th District Democrat, said much work will be needed to get the message to Minnesota's newest immigrants that there's no sharing of private census data.
She said it's essential that even those in country without permission be counted, because they pay taxes and use government services.
"We need take down any barriers, cultural barriers, fear or suspicion," McCollum said, "We need to assure people that the information being gathered is in fact confidential and it will not be used in anyway that could negatively impact any person, family member, or extended family."
Mayor Coleman echoed that sentiment.
"This is not a witch hunt," he asserted, "But a lot of people don't understand that; a lot of people are frightened when somebody comes to your door and says we want to know how many people live in your house."
A wide array of state and local services, including public education, transportation, and health care, are financed in part by federal aid. Those formulas are often based on census results, relative to other localities.
Rogelio Munoz, the executive director of the Chicano Latino Affairs Council, pointed out that while persons of color represent 14 percent of the Minnesota's population they account for 24 percent of students in public schools.
The question of whether McCollum remains part of a delegation of eight Minnesotans in the United State House of Representatives or will be part of just seven hinges on the census.
The State Demographer, Tom Gillaspy, said Monday that Minnesota stands a fairly good chance of losing one of its seats after the census. The US Constitution dictates all congressional districts are equal in population, and as the American populace has shifted south and west northern states lose power on Capitol Hill.
As a expert who studies population trends in Minnesota, he's watched the state change over the past four census counts.
"Two of the most important things we do as Americans," Gillaspy said, "One is to vote and the other is to be counted in the Census."
"It is our family portrait, and as a family portrait we don't want to leave anybody out. We want to make sure everybody is in that family portrait."
(Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)