Unions mobilize to promote participation in U.S. Census


Sometime in mid-March, your letter carrier will deliver your 2010 U.S. Census form in the mail: 10 questions. Take a few minutes to fill out the form and return it in the mail by April 1. By law, your answers are confidential. By participating, you can help make sure Minnesota receives its fair share of billions of federal dollars. And you¹ll also be counted in a high-stakes tally that will determine whether or not Minnesota retains its current eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives – or loses a seat and a voice in Washington, D.C.

With so much at stake, “we’re thinking about the Census in the same way we think about election day,” said Anna Brelje, political director for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.

In the weeks between now and April 1, the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation will be working with affiliated unions and nonprofit community partners in a campaign to promote participation in the Census.

The campaign will include doorknocking in targeted neighborhoods, passing out worksite flyers, and reaching out to union members through union meetings and newsletters.

The message: Filling out the Census form is simple, safe, and important.

“We identified unions we think have particularly hard-to-count populations and complex households,” said Doug Flateau, executive director of Working Partnerships, the MRLF¹s community services affiliate.

Outreach about the Census will include special events for the week beginning March 22, “Be Counted Week.”

The Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation and Working Partnerships are helping to organize a doorknock about the Census Sunday, March 28.

Volunteers will meet at 12 noon at the United Labor Centre, 312 Central Ave., Minneapolis. Trainers will instruct volunteers how to talk with people about the Census. Then the volunteers will spend the afternoon doorknocking in targeted Minneapolis neighborhoods to encourage people to complete and mail in their Census forms.

For more information on the event, or to volunteer, contact Working Partnerships at 612-379-8133 or e-mail doug@workingpartnerships.org.

What¹s at stake: billions in federal funding for Minnesota

One reason the Census is so important: the federal government uses Census data to allocate billions of dollars to the states for a broad variety of programs.

According to an analysis by the Brookings Institution, Minnesota in fiscal year 2008 received more than $7 billion in federal assistance based on Census data about Minnesota¹s population.

These programs included everything from medical assistance ($3.76 billion) to highway planning and construction ($898 million) to mass transit ($83 million) to housing loans ($293 million) to business and industry loans ($41 million). The list of 150-plus programs runs nine pages long. Brookings estimated that federal funding distributed to Minnesota based in whole or in part on Census data in fiscal year 2008 amounted to $1,344.55 in per capita expenditures.

And all that federal spending equals, in one word, jobs.

For example, when the federal government decides what to invest in Minnesota¹s infrastructure – hospitals, schools, roads, mass transit – “all of those needs are identified by the Census,” said Jessica Looman, representative of the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota. “We want to make sure Minnesota¹s needs are identified.” “We¹re going to do a 9,500 piece mailing to all of our members that will include a message to please participate in the Census – and why,” she said. What¹s at stake: maintaining eight Minnesota seats in the U.S. House

The federal government also uses the Census count to determine each state¹s number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Minnesota currently has eight seats and risks losing one seat as the result of faster-growing populations in other states.

“We¹re so close to losing one of our Congressional seats. We really need an accurate count,” said Maureen Ramirez, director of the Minnesota Civic Engagement Table.

The margin that could make the difference: 1,100 people counted by the Census, Minnesota state demographer Tom Gillaspy reported in December. “What will decide the issue is getting everyone in Minnesota counted in the 2010 Census,” he said.

Counting the under-counted

But counting everyone in Minnesota is not as simple as it sounds. Minnesota residents who winter in warmer parts of the country, for example, might be missed in Minnesota¹s count.

The downturn in the economy also has led many Minnesota building trades workers and other workers to travel out-of-state to get work. They, too, might be missed in the Minnesota count.

And, among Minnesota¹s communities of color and immigrant workers, fear and suspicion of government also may lead people to avoid participating in the Census.

The 2000 Census, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, undercounted Minnesota¹s population by 14,308 people. That included 7,758 people missed in Hennepin County alone.

Counting those undercounted people – or not – could well make the difference in retaining Minnesota¹s eighth seat in the U.S. House.

Where to find them?

“If you look at the map of where the highest rates of undercounting occur, it would be a map based on income: poor people, working people,” said Peter McLaughlin, Hennepin County commissioner. “There¹s a clear class tilt to who does get counted. The pattern of the Census is clear. The areas where the highest  numbers of people are uncounted are poor areas and working class.” McLaughlin noted that Census counts also will help redraw district lines for seats in the Minnesota legislature. Under-counting working class communities would  skew the process, denying working families a proportional voice in the legislature. “We need to correct that if we¹re going to get a fair distribution of votes at the State Capitol,” McLaughlin said.