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UMN-area representation a key piece of census outreach

Officials hope translation and hiring efforts will lead to a more accurate count in the nation’s tally ahead of Census Day on April 1.
City Clerk Casey Carl visits the Prospect Park board meeting on Monday, Jan. 27.
Image by Jasmin Kemp
City Clerk Casey Carl visits the Prospect Park board meeting on Monday, Jan. 27.

As Census Day nears, local officials and community members are ramping up engagement efforts in University of Minnesota areas.

Students, who usually live in transition, along with the predominantly East African Cedar-Riverside community, are often undercounted. In fact, neighborhoods around the University are among the most unlikely in Minneapolis to respond to the census, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. 

Some officials hope translation and local outreach will help lead to a more accurate count.

Andrew Virden, Minnesota’s director of census operations and engagement, said student and immigrant communities have some shared characteristics that make an accurate count more difficult: They’re often renters, they may have more people living in a dwelling than the lease allows and they may be less likely to answer the call of a census enumerator.

Virden said recruiting census workers from these communities is the best way to combat disparities in census responses.

“I’m in my mid-40s, I’m probably not the right person to go hit frat row,” Virden said. “Ditto with the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. They need someone who’s culturally competent … ideally, who actually speak Somali or Oromo or another language.”

The official physical census form — a federal document that cannot be altered — is only offered in English and Spanish. The census form is offered in 12 languages online, not including Somali or Hmong, two predominant languages in the Twin Cities. But supporting documents are offered in 59 non-English languages, including Somali and Hmong.

While city officials are touring neighborhoods to promote the census, including a presentation in Prospect Park last week, grassroots efforts have bubbled up.

A Complete Count Committee, made up of local residents and community leaders that can help with outreach, was recently formed in Cedar-Riverside.

“We invited leaders of organizations or leaders of these neighborhood that people are very familiar with,” said Ahmed Mussa, a community health coordinator at the Brian Coyle Center, who was involved in forming the CCC.

To spread the word, Mussa is utilizing social media, visiting local organizations and making announcements at mosques. He also interacts with residents one-on-one to answer questions more directly.

Besides influencing political districts and government funding, businesses may use census information to identify areas that need services like grocery stores. 

Minneapolis is at risk of being undercounted by 95,000 people, according to a presentation shared by city officials at a Jan. 8 Cedar-Riverside Community Council meeting. Undercounting by this much would cost the city nearly $2.7 billion in federal aid and threatens the loss of a Congressional seat, according to the presentation.

While census data is protected by law, some residents — especially those who are undocumented — fear how their data will be used, Mussa said.

“One of the primary concerns is, will this information go to ICE?” said Alberder Gillespie, the city’s 2020 Census project coordinator. “How will this be used to track me in some way that will ultimately lead to me being harassed, deported, whatever … These are the concerns of community.”

Census Day is April 1. Throughout April, the Census Bureau will follow up with households that did not respond.

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