Stand up and be counted. In Minnesota, that looks like a daunting challenge for the 2020 census. In many other states, a fair tally seems more like a dare than a promise.
The Census Bureau requires some 8,000 temporary workers to pull off the decennial head count across Minnesota. To get there, officials had expected to sift through 38,000 applications by the end of January.
So far, only about a third of that number have applied, despite pay of up to $27.50 an hour in Hennepin County. The culprit: The strongest job market in years for people looking elsewhere for permanent full-time jobs.
“At some point the census can’t … progress if we don’t have people to do this work. So to me it’s really serious,” state demographer Susan Brower told the Star Tribune. “Any barriers that are brought about because of a lack of people to do this work is going to have a serious impact on the census overall.”
Even before the hiring problem emerged, the Urban Institute warned that Minnesota — a state with a projected population of more than 5.7 million — could miss as many as 29,500 people in the decennial count.
If so, an undercount here would be happenstance. In other parts of the country, overlooking residents appears to be more by design.
In states largely led by Democrats, governments are spending extra money to give the census a better chance of counting every last soul living within their borders. California and 25 other states have earmarked an unprecedented sum — almost a third of a billion — to supplement census count efforts with everything from door-to-door pamphleteering to sophisticated advertising and market campaigns.
Thanks to Democratic prodding, some $1.4 billion in census funds cut by the Trump White House were restored to the federal budget in a December agreement.
Encouraging an accurate count means big money. The federal government apportions about $675 billion for schools, roads, hospitals and other public works with the aid of census numbers. How many seats a state can claim in the U.S. House, as well as Electoral College votes, relies on the same figures, and Brower said this week that she’s “less confident” Minnesota can hang on to its eight seats based on new projections, although it’s not “impossible.”
“Red states,” nevertheless, are largely shunning any effort to encourage a complete census head count, the New York Times reported. “The political divide is stark: Seventeen of those 24 are led by Republican governors and legislatures, including population heavyweights like Texas, Florida and Ohio. But of the 26 states that are spending money, only four are Republican-controlled.”
Republicans appear fearful which hard-to-reach residents might be found by the census — immigrants, legal or illegal, minorities and millions of poor people who live on the fringes of society.
It may sound unfair to charge Republicans with discouraging a census count that would give states with big cities a greater voice in Congress — and in state legislatures. But consider other hurdles Trump and his allies have placed before the 2020 census. White House attempts to pare the census budget. The census director’s job unfilled for more than a year in the run-up to the count. A failed attempt to add a “citizenship question” to the census, which likely would have discouraged cooperation from Latinos and other immigrants.
Boosting the census count in Minnesota should be a duty, even if politicians in other states ignore that call.