Next March 13-14, every household in the nation is supposed to receive either a postcard or a paper form from the U.S. Census Bureau. About a fifth will ignore it, but all of us will be affected by each individual’s decision.

Most people know that under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government has to count the number of people living in each state so that it can divide up the seats for the U.S. House of Representatives. What most Minnesotans don’t know is that next year, most people will be asked to respond electronically, either through their computer or phone. Only those areas that have low broadband access will receive a paper form.

Paper forms will be available in English and Spanish only. People can respond online or by phone in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog and Vietnamese. Interestingly, Somali and Hmong, languages spoken by a significant number of Minnesotans, are not included.

Most Minnesotans also don’t know that their state government is spending $1.6 million to encourage the participation of all Minnesotans. Many states don’t do that, but Minnesota has unusual circumstances.

The benefit of participation is twofold. First, it may make a difference in whether or not we keep our eight seats in the House. Minnesota’s share of seats grew steadily from statehood in 1858 through the 1910 census, when the state was allotted 10 House members. We held those seats until the 1930 census, when we dropped to nine. Then, after the 1960 census, we dropped to eight seats.

Minnesota’s special circumstance is that of the 435 seats in the House, Minnesota got the 435th after the 2010 census. If Minnesota had tallied 8,739 fewer people, the last seat would have gone to another state. Maybe you don’t care if we lose a congressional seat. However, let’s say that Minnesota’s population after the next census is 5.6 million. If Minnesota has eight seats, that’s one seat for every 700,000 state residents. If it has only seven seats, each Minnesota U.S. House member will represent 800,000 residents. If you have a problem with the federal government, the line will be that much longer to get your congressperson’s help.

The same dynamic will also affect state and local governments, since the Legislature, county boards and city councils will also use census data to redraw district, ward and precinct lines.

Second, and perhaps even more important, $675 billion in federal spending is allocated based on census data. Of that, Minnesota receives about $15.5 billion. That money is spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works, etc. Those numbers are also used by local governments and businesses to decide where to locate new schools and stores.

A year ago, President Trump attempted to include a question in the census regarding whether or not a person was a U.S. citizen. The census, however, is about counting the number of human beings, not the number of citizens. The effort was denied by the courts because it was thought to undermine participation.

If confidentiality remains a concern, note that individual responses remain private for 72 years. Only the aggregate totals are released now.

As it is, the information being requested is fairly straightforward:

• The name, sex, age, date of birth and race of each person in the home on April 1, 2020.

• A phone number for a person in the home.

• The relationship of the people in the home to each other.

• Whether each person is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin.

• Whether the home is owned with or without a mortgage, rented or occupied without rent.

For those concerned about federal spending, they should understand that responding to the first notice saves the government a lot of money. Census workers are paid $14 to $20 an hour, so if someone has to track you down, it takes time plus transportation costs. If you are able to respond electronically, it only costs a few cents to enter your information into the government’s data base.

Keep these directions in mind when responding:


It should be noted that if you are living somewhere besides Minnesota for six months and a day or longer, you should list your out-of-state address when responding. With each passing year, more snowbirds are taking advantage of the friendlier tax climates in southern states, leaving here earlier and staying down there longer.

College students

College students who are living at school for more than six months of the year should register under their college address. If they mostly live with their parents, they should be registered with them. Andrew Virden, who is employed by the State Demographer’s Office as director of census operations and engagement, said, if students are studying overseas for longer than six months, they should not be counted at all. The only exceptions for U.S. citizens living overseas are military personnel and U.S. diplomats, who will use their stateside addresses.


People who are incarcerated will be counted in their prison residence. People living in halfway houses and those on probation will also be counted where they live.


The state’s estimated 10,000 people will be counted where they are found.

Please take responsibility for your country; respond quickly to your census notice.

Tom West, now retired, is the former general manager of the Morrison County Record. Reach him at

Load comments