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Census 2010 determines congressional districts, federal money distribution

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WORTHINGTON -- The U.S. Constitution includes the phrase "The actual Enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of 10 years, in such manner as they shall by law direct."

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Since 1790, a national census has taken place every 10 years, and the next one is right around the corner. Barbara Ronningen, a demographer with the Minnesota State Demographic Center, was in Worthington Wednesday morning to discuss Census 2010 and let people know just how important the census is.

The information from a national census is used each decade to calculate the number of elected representatives each state has in Congress. Minnesota currently has eight congressional districts, but current population projections indicate a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives could be in jeopardy.

"It's really important we count every person in Minnesota," Ronningen said.

An accurate census count is also important because approximately $300 billion in federal dollars are distributed to states annually based on the results. Over a decade, Minnesota loses $10,000 per person missed in the 2010 Census.

"If just 100 people aren't counted, our state misses out on $1 million in federal funding," Ronningen stated.

Important data that comes from the census is yet another reason an accurate count is needed.

"This is a portrait of America," Ronningen explained. "We need to know who lives in our communities."

The questionnaire

The 2010 census questionnaire will contain only six questions -- name, gender, age and date of birth, race, relationship to head of household and whether the respondent owns or rents his or her home. Unlike the 2000 census, there will be no long-form questionnaires this time around.

The short form will be mailed to households in late February and early March 2010 and should be filled out promptly and mailed back. Households that do not return the form will be visited between the months of April and July 2010.

The challenges

There are several challenges facing the census takers, such as the recent flurry of home foreclosures.

"Where are people living?" Ronningen asked. "Are two families living in one home? We need to count both families."

The snowbirds are also an issue. Many of them do not return to the state by April 1, which will complicate things.

But the biggest challenge, Ronningen admitted, will be getting the immigrants to fill out the census.

"The form does not ask citizen status," Ronningen stressed. "We want everyone counted whether they have proper papers or not."

Many immigrants will be concerned over the idea of putting their name on an official document, a problem Ronningen said she understands. But in order for the government to know if more help is needed in certain areas -- Spanish-speaking teachers and doctors, monetary aid, etc. -- an accurate count is needed.

The form that will be mailed out is in English, but instructions are included to get a Spanish questionnaire.

Census information, Ronningen said, is safe, secure and confidential. The personal information from the 2010 census will be kept confidential for 72 years.

Complete Count Committees

The U.S. Census Bureau is asking cities and townships to form Complete Count Committees to help get the word out. The committes are generally made up of local leaders from government, school, faith and civic organizations. Ronningen suggested communities with high ethnic populations should be sure to include people of the ethnicities on the committee.

"We are about a year from census day," Ronningsen. "When should you form a Complete County Committee? Now."

The committees are encouraged to get the word out by having a presence at city festivals, county fairs, parades, fundraisers and more.

The jobs

The U.S. Census Bureau will hire upward of 8,000 Minnesotans to run the 2010 census. Positions will cover a wide range of tasks including address canvassing, geocoding, following up on households that do not respond to the census, questionnaire assistance and translation and more.

The jobs, Ronningen said, are short-term, part-time positions that last six to eight weeks and pay well.

For more information on Census 2010 and the job opportunities, go online to www.mn2010census.org.

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