MANKATO — Minnesotans lead the nation in responding to the 2020 census so far, but some cities are ahead of others in being counted. Several communities in south-central Minnesota got off to great starts for self-responses, while others will have to make up ground.
Residents have until the end of October to respond. For those who haven’t already responded either by mail or online, U.S. Census Bureau takers will begin interviewing residents in mid-August.
Getting an accurate read on how many people live in townships, cities, counties and states ends up factoring into important federal funding decisions.
“The federal government uses census data to determine where people are living and therefore where to send money,” said Sam Fettig, the census bureau’s Minnesota partnership coordinator. “That’s really key for communities throughout the state.”
It’s why government leaders encourage locals to respond because otherwise their communities can miss out. The census factors into about $675 billion in annual federal funding for education, health care, elder care, transportation and other programs, Fettig said.
“It’s a really safe and simple and easy way to help your community for the next 10 years,” he said.
In this area, Skyline’s response rate as of Wednesday towered above its neighboring communities. The city’s small size — population of 289 as of the 2010 census — might make it easier to achieve a higher rate, but few other cities of any size managed to outpace Skyline’s 86.1%.
Skyline’s rate is the 93rd highest in the country and the seventh highest in Minnesota. The city of Sobieski in Morrison County takes top honors for response rates in the state with 88.9%.
Minnesota’s statewide self-response rate is 72.1%, placing it first in the country. Rival and neighbor Wisconsin is in second with a 69.4% rate.
Several other cities in south-central Minnesota joined Skyline in outpacing the state’s overall response rate. North Mankato had an 81.3% rate, and New Ulm, St. Peter, Le Sueur and Waseca’s rates ranged from 77.2% to 73.7%.
Other area cities, including Mankato, are below the state average in responses. Lake Crystal, Eagle Lake and Madelia each have higher rates than Mankato’s 68.6% but lower rates than the state average.
St. James and Madison Lake, meanwhile, have some of the lowest rates in the region. Madison Lake had a 50.3% response rate as of Wednesday, compared to St. James’ 64.4% rate.
To remind people to respond, Madison Lake will be including messages about the census on the next water bills the city sends to residents, said City Administrator Jeff Shoobridge. The city also plans to spread word about the census on its Facebook page, after initially doing so earlier in the year.
Shoobridge suspected the low response rate to date has to do with people being distracted by a hectic 2020 so far. He encouraged locals to respond so Madison Lake and other smaller communities receive the funding they need.
“There are so many processes and grant availabilities that are population-based,” he said. “The better (the count), the more chances I as an administrator and we as a city have to find those sources to get federal and state assistance.”
On top of funding opportunities, census data also determine how much political representation states receive. Minnesota could lose one of its eight congressional districts if the census shows enough other states are growing more in population.
Losing a voice in Congress would be bad for the state, Shoobridge said. The remaining representatives would have more constituents spread out over larger geographic areas.
“When you lose representation, that’s one fewer avenue that you have to send a message at the national level,” Shoobridge said.
The census also serves a third important purpose, Fettig said. Businesses and nonprofits use it when deciding whether to expand into communities.
A business owner, for instance, would want to know if a community has enough people to sustain a grocery store before opening.
“Census data has a lot of ripple effects,” Fettig said.
The census takers who’ll be visiting homes to collect responses between Aug. 11 and Oct. 31 are trained to social distance and wear masks when going door to door. Renters, immigrant communities and non-English speakers are among the populations with lower response rates so far.
To complete your 2020 census form online, visit my2020census.gov.