The census heroes saved you a seat, Minnesota.
The 2020 census was about to decide whether there were enough Minnesotans to justify eight seats in Congress. The odds were against us. The population maps were against us.
Somebody needed to do something. So almost everyone did.
Millions of Minnesotans took five minutes out of the pandemic to be counted. The last 26 of them — or the first 26 of them, or you and 25 of your friends — saved the Eighth Congressional District.
The state that never takes the last bite of anything snagged the last available seat in the U.S. House.
"Because the margin turned out to be so close, it really feels like everyone who worked on this did their part to get us just over the finish line," said Minnesota's delighted state demographer, Susan Brower, who will use all this new census data to start figuring out who we are, where we are and what we will need over the next decade. "I've been getting so many just elated e-mails from everyone who worked so hard on this."
It was a huge win after a year when we all lost so much.
Getting those last 26 people required the combined efforts of hundreds of communities, millions of planning dollars and thousands of volunteers who worked for years to make sure everyone counts.
Census data determines everything from the size of your state's congressional delegation to how many dollars your hometown gets to fix the roads and fund the schools. 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.
Every time the census misses someone, the community misses out.
So communities across the state launched complete-count committees years ahead of time; planned social media campaigns, partnered with local nonprofits and prepared outreach into schools, churches, corner barbershops — anywhere they could put in a good word for good data.
We'll never know what persuaded those 26 Minnesotans to step up and be counted.
Maybe they live in Brainerd and spotted college students fitting Paul Bunyan with a census statue-sized superhero cape, mask and giant pencil.
Maybe they caught Minnesota comedian Mary Mack's remarkably catchy census serenade on Facebook.
"It's just common sense to fill out the census," Mack crooned. "Use your common senses to fill out the census."
Maybe they listened to Brett Favre.
"So this is an encouragement to the Central Lakes College Raiders, the citizens of Crow Wing County and the residents of Staples," Favre favre'd in a motivational video last May, urging Minnesota residents to do what we do best: Beat Wisconsin.
At the time, the two states were battling it out for best census self-response rate in the nation. It was a battle Minnesota won so decisively, the Census Bureau had to give us our own special shade of blue on the census map. Everyone who filled out the form saved Minnesota a seat. Everyone who knocked on a door to remind someone to fill out the form.
In a year when Minnesotans were pushed apart by politics and kept apart by disease, it's good to remember we all came together.
Every single person who cared, counted.
The residents of Carver County, where 84% returned their census forms without prompting, saved us a seat. So did the Twin Cities-based Mujeres Latinas Unidas, who choreographed a census zumba to get people comfortable with the count.
Volunteers in Hubbard County hand-painted a census billboard at the Park Rapids city limits, with a thermometer they kept updating as more and more residents completed the count: 50%, 60% ...
Circle Pines City Council Member Dean Goldberg put on a cape and went out in the community as his alter-ego, Census Man, determined to make sure the city hit the 5,000-person population mark it needs to qualify for state road funding.
Members of Minneapolis' complete-count committee reportedly performed a census rap that seems to have vanished from the internet. We may never know what they rhymed with "census." (Fences? Dollars and cents-es?) The Census Rap alone might have been enough to persuade 26 people.
Great job, Minnesota.
We couldn't have done it without us.
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