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Why Do We Take The Census?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The Supreme Court will decide if a controversial question about citizenship is added to next year's census. The Justice Department says it needs an accurate count to enforce the Voting Rights Act, but critics say it could cause large groups of people to skip the census.

So, that had us wondering: Why do we take the census? Good Question.

Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says "actual enumeration" will be taken every "ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct."

"We have a lot at stake," says Andrew Virden, director of census operations and engagement at the Minnesota State Demographer's Office. "There's a lot of different reasons why you might care about the census even if you don't know it."

The official data is used for a number of different purposes by the government, academics, nonprofits and businesses.

First, it determines the numbers of Congressional seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. For the past three censuses, Minnesota has been on the verge of losing one of its Congressional seats.

RELATED: Minnesota Among States Suing Government Over Census Question

"There are 435 seats in Congress and Minnesota got the 435th of those seats," says Virden. "It was that close."

Census data is a big factor in determining the level of federal funding given to each state. Each year, Minnesota receives $15.5 billion in federal funding, which translates to $28,000/person over the decade.

Businesses and local governments also use the data to plan where roads, schools, hospitals or new stores should be placed.

"Voting is the rockstar of civic engagements," says XP Lee, community liaison for the City of Brooklyn Park. "But the Census is the nerdy tech guy that works in the background."

Lee, who's also organizing census efforts with the Hmong American Census Network, says rockstars are just as important as nerdy guys. He started census organizing with traditionally undercounted groups in February 2018. Since then, he's been part of city/county partnership meetings and listening groups as well as creating public service announcements in the Hmong language.

"The message is important, but the messenger is also important," Lee says. "It takes time to get into the communities and build the relations, so they can trust you and feel more confident in filling out the census."

This will be the first time people will have the option of filling out the census forms online. In mid-March of 2020, the first mailings will be sent informing people how to complete the census questions online. A smaller group of people who live in areas with limited internet access will receive paper forms.

Virden says he expects the Census Bureau to open three offices in Minnesota – Minneapolis, Rochester and Duluth – in mid-summer of 2019.

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