With Census Day approaching on April 1, Ramsey County and St. Paul are spending a combined $225,000 to ensure hard-to-reach populations are counted.

People of color, renters, low-income families, children and immigrants are historically undercounted during the once-a-decade national tally. Ramsey County has been recruiting census workers and St. Paul has ramped up advertising.

In St. Paul, census officials have targeted areas, including Frogtown, the North End and the Greater East Side, with heavy populations of renters, immigrants and low-income households. At least 40% of households in these areas have a median income below $35,000 a year, according to data by MNCompass.org. More than one-fourth of residents were born abroad.

Ramsey County has allocated $165,000 to fund census outreach and St. Paul has directed $60,000 toward the effort.

They have partnered to create a complete count committee, a group comprised of local nonprofits and educational institutions, to ensure “good representation of our community members involved with the outreach,” said Toni Newborn, St. Paul’s chief equity officer.

Newborn said the city and county began their work in October 2018 and could continue as late as August this year. They’ve worked with local radio stations and hosted events to build awareness and dispel fears.

“The census is a large-scale outreach and engagement effort,” Newborn said. “So we’re engaged in the community to talk about why the census is important.”

A shift could be underway in how the census is promoted, said Monica Jones, who’s working with Ramsey County for census and voter registration outreach. She goes where she knows people will be to spread the word. She said that as a black woman, it may be easier for her to start a conversation in African-American communities.

“You just really have to meet them where they’re at and really come down to their level and connect in a very authentic way,” Jones said.

The black population was undercounted by about an estimated 800,000 people nationally in the 2000 and 2010 censuses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Black Minnesotans could be undercounted by more than 11,000 people in the 2020 census, according to projections by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan national think tank.

Because the count helps lawmakers determine how money is distributed, Jones said people miss out when they’re not counted.

“Less money is going into the areas of color, because they’re not being counted,” she said. “How do we know to serve this community if we don’t know they exist?”

While immigrants and refugees may be less aware of the country’s head count, they may also mistrust the government, and what it will do with their information, said Jolie Wood, Ramsey County policy analyst. She noted that even though the Census Bureau is bound by Title 13, which prohibits the disclosure of census data, some still may fear the law could change.

“You can understand where a lot of this fear comes from. It just comes from distrust and fear and the anti-immigrant sentiment,” Wood said. “And also, just people’s lack of awareness of what census data is actually used for.”

 

J.D. Duggan (j.d.duggan@startribune.com) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.