2020 Census: A Once-in-a-Decade Opportunity

by Tony Sertich and Susan Bower

As we write this, the 2020 Census is less than eight months away. That may seem like a long time, but our guess is that we will blink and it will be April 1, 2020: Census Day. The taking of a census is always an immensely complicated and difficult operation, but this census will be even more difficult than usual.

Delays in federal funding for the Census Bureau have meant that the work has been slow to get started, and residents’ heightened distrust of the government could well translate to a lower level of self-response come April 1.

It’s really hard to overstate how important the census is to Minnesota communities. The census is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to make sure that Minnesotans receive their fair share of resources for the decade ahead. It will determine how political districts are redrawn to accommodate the population changes that have happened during the decade. And it will determine whether Minnesota keeps eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.  If Minnesota loses a Congressional seat, each of the seven remaining districts will need to grow by about 100,000 people. That may not translate to a large change in areas around the Twin Cities, but for many Greater Minnesota districts, a change of 100,000 translates to districts that span much larger geographies in areas where districts are already very large.

The census will also guide the distribution of public funds—federal, state and local—until the next census happens in 2030. Each year, Minnesota communities collectively receive more than 15 billion dollars in federal funding on the basis of the census count. Funds go to help support Minnesota’s most vulnerable residents through programs like Medicaid, Women Infants and Children (WIC), and State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP). The census is also used to distribute federal and state funds for other communities needs like highway construction and infrastructure in rural areas.

Grant-makers and non-profits regularly rely on census data to understand community needs, and to make sure that that programs and funding finds it way to the communities for which it is intended.

The Northland Foundation counts on good data for our strategic planning. We use the census data as one of the ways to gauge our impact, decide our focus areas and to gain a better understanding of who we serve.

Another example of this is the Minnesota Compass neighborhood data projects. The Northland Foundation has funded Minnesota Compass to produce a profile for the city of Duluth. Other funders have helped with profiles for the rest of northeastern Minnesota and the Twin Cities. You can look at important demographic data down to the block. This allows any community member, elected official or grantee the ability to find pertinent data in a disaggregated and customizable way.

The census is a non-partisan issue. Every Minnesotan has a stake in making sure each of our neighbors—be they down the street or across the lakes—is counted. The public, private and non-profit sectors are connecting with citizens--where they have built relationships and trust--to do our parts to deliver the most accurate and full count we can for the good of all the people of Minnesota.


Tony Sertich is the President of the Northland Foundation, a regional initiative foundation, serving seven counties and all -- or parts of -- five tribal nations in northeastern Minnesota. As an Iron Ranger, he spent a decade representing that same region in the Minnesota House of Representatives -- four of those years as Majority Leader.

Susan Bower became the State Demographer in 2012. Prior to that, Susan worked as a researcher on the Minnesota Compass project at Wilder Research in St. Paul. Susan travels throughout the state of Minnesota and talks about the impact of demographic shifts and applies an understanding of these changes and how they influence the state's economy and workforce, education, health, immigration and rural population change.



MCF supports a fully-inclusive, nonpartisan, and accurate 2020 Census count. MCF has led the community-centered effort to prepare Minnesota for the 2020 Census since 2015, and it is a board-approved public policy leadership commitment for the organization. MCF leads the coordination of the MN Census Mobilization Partnership (MCMP), a cross-sector collaboration of organizations and individuals focused on advocating for the Census at the state and federal level, completing special projects to better support a full count in Minnesota, and organizing and mobilizing participation from historically undercounted communities in the Census.  MCF has provided leadership in raising public funds and philanthropic dollars to support a fully-inclusive, nonpartisan and accurate count in Minnesota.

Outreach activities supported by the MCMP are organized around five hubs of activity, each focused on engaging historically undercounted communities. The five Hubs consist of a Nonprofit Hub, a Tribal/Native People Hub, a Complete Count Committee Hub, and a Greater MN/Rural Hub focused on engaging community foundations in Census activities. The final Hub is the Our Minnesota Census Campaign Hub, which is a table of leaders from historically undercounted communities actively organizing around the Census.  This work aligns with MCF’s public policy goal of creating prosperity through inclusion and equity by creating power through stronger democratic systems and civic engagement.