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State stresses need for community awareness and involvement in 2010 census

Barbara Ronningen, demographer with the Minnesota Department of Administration, addresses an audience Wednesday during a speech to local officials about the 2010 census. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR -- Counting every single person living in Minnesota next spring -- including snowbirds in Arizona and undocumented immigrants working in Willmar -- could make the difference between Minnesota having eight congressional representatives or seven.

"We're about 2,000 people short of losing a seat," said Barbara Ronningen, a demographer from the Minnesota Department of Administration, in Willmar Wednesday to talk about the 2010 census.

"It's not a big number," she said, but it will "take a little bit of work" to make sure the state's population is counted and its political power unchanged.

"Let's keep our eight congressional delegates if we can," said Ronningen.

Showing a map of Minnesota's congressional districts, Ronningenin showed the massive geographical size of the 1st, 7th and 8th districts. The 7th District, which includes Kandiyohi County, covers nearly the entire western third of the state, and the 8th District goes from the Canadian border to the northern edge of the Twin Cities.

Ronningen said it would be hard to imagine realigning the state to have only seven districts.

Many entities, like businesses, schools and churches, use census data to decide where to build new facilities.

Because the census can be used "in a myriad of ways" that can affect "power, money and data," Ronningen said it's important that each community makes a strong effort to educate people about the need to respond to the census questionnaires.

She encouraged city clerks, mayors and county officials to form "Complete Count Committees" that will strive to get information about the census to their residents and let everyone know how important the census is. "Keep it in front of your residents," she said.

When questionnaires are sent in March, some people will receive the long census forms that request detailed information but most will receive the short form in 2010 that includes 10 questions, like name, gender, age, race, date of birth and if you rent or own your home, that should take less than 10 minutes to complete.

With less than a year to prepare for the 2010 census, Ronningen said local communities need to start now to form their committees, create partnerships with service organizations, churches, schools and the media and start the community education process so that everyone is counted accurately.

Minnesotans who spend their winters out of state should respond with their permanent address so that they're counted as Minnesotans. Students who attend college out of state or out of town, however, should be counted wherever they are attending school, said Ronningen. An apartment full of college buddies should all be counted as living at that particular address.

Home foreclosures have left some people homeless or doubling up with other families.

Multiple families living together should be counted as residents of whatever house they're living in at the time, said Ronningen.

The Department of Administration has individuals on staff to work with residents whose primary language is not English to make sure they understand the process and the need to be counted.

Refugees who left their home country out of fear for their lives may not trust the government and be hesitant to participate in the census process. Ronningen said it's important that someone they trust here explains the census to them so that they can also be counted.

Ronningen said migrant workers or immigrants who are not U.S. citizens also need to be counted. Undocumented immigrants cannot vote, said Ronningen, but they can be counted in the census.

Because census data on individuals are kept private for 72 years, Ronningen said immigrants should not be afraid that answering the questions could put them at risk.

"ICE won't be told where they are," she said, referring to the federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Another piece of information Ronningen had about the census is that they are hiring people. Hundreds of thousands of temporary jobs will be created across the country during the 2010 census process.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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