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Minnesota's desperate attempt to get you to care about the census

Minnesota could lose federal money and representation in Congress is not everyone is counted.

Minnesota could lose federal money and representation in Congress is not everyone is counted. Leila Navidi, Star Tribune

You can buy a corn dog longer than a child’s arm, scream your way down the Giant Slide, and see a prizewinning rabbit big enough to punch out your dog. The Minnesota State Fair is a place dedicated to the art of distraction. Which makes it an odd place to beg your to care about the 2020 U.S. Census.

Yet state demographer Susan Brower would argue this is the perfect place. She and her team need to talk to as many people as they can. Where else, she asks, can you find 2 million people just walking around?

After the 2010 census, Minnesota barely emerged unscathed. If we’d managed to count just 8,000 fewer people, we would have lost a congressional seat, and thus clout in Washington. "Reduction in representation does happen,” volunteer Alvin Odermann says over the dull roar of the crowd and the sounds of a man playing smooth jazz piano nearby. “When I first moved here in 1968, we had 10 seats in Congress.”

That translates to less cold, hard cash from the federal government. The census determines how much we get for programs like Medicaid, food assistance, transportation, special ed – the works. In 2010, we received a grand total of $15 billion (with a b) in federal money because of it, which translates to nearly $2,800 per person per year.

But the problem of getting people counted involves more than apathy. The Trump administration floated a potential question on the census that would ask each resident whether they were a documented citizen. People are scared, says Brower. They worry what’s going to happen if they tell the government they’re not a citizen, or if they’re living in an apartment with more people than their landlord allows. Or they’re skeptical about giving any government agency more data than they absolutely have to.

The good news is that whatever data you give to the census is secure. They’re not allowed to give it to anyone else. 

So as the crowds milled by, volunteers dutifully reached out, hoping to snag as many passersby as they could.