April surprise: Don't count Minnesota out just yet
By Todd Graham, Metropolitan Council
Those anticipating the 2010 census [set to go out next April] have been speculating about whether Minnesota has enough people. Every decennial census is followed by a musical-chairs reapportionment of congressional districts. This time around, some pundits, and also USA Today, have identified Minnesota's current representation to be "at risk" due to Minnesota's supposedly lackluster 2010 population growth.
The state Demographer, Tom Gillaspy, contributed his own analysis last December, saying Minnesota could keep or lose a seat in the U.S. Congress. "It's just too close to call," he said. Unfortunately, the State Capitol press corps has a habit of reading between the lines. Within one day, the State Demographer's remarks congealed into new conventional wisdom that the 2010 census outcome is already known; the 8th seat, poof, gone to Arizona.
Well, don't count Minnesota out just yet. There is more good news than has been shared – and three stories that really should be told.
#1. "Fantasy census" – The analyses that grabbed headlines in December are just that. In "fantasy census," population projections for 2010 are extrapolated forward – starting from where one thinks the numbers stand today. If one trusts "intercensal estimates" (published by Census Bureau statisticians), then we can plot out Minnesota's magic number: Minnesota keeps or loses its eighth House seat at about 5,320,000. If you want to see how the calculations work, and scenario-test the competition for the 435th seat in Congress, just download a spreadsheet here.
One major problem with "fantasy census" is that the "intercensal estimates" mentioned above come with a track record of fuzzy math and gaping, late-in-the-decade discrepancies. Consider: The Census Bureau has estimated Minnesota's 2008 population at 5,220,000. Meanwhile, the State Demographer and Metropolitan Council also publish annual estimates, putting Minnesota's 2008 population at 5,300,000. Can Minnesota reach 5,320,000 by 2010? Yes...but...after all the census counting is done, the "magic number" threshold needed to have eight Representatives in the House may be something other than 5,320,000.
#2. If all of this is a puzzle, the good news is: The "fantasy census" is not the real game. And the time to stand up and be counted is coming.
Yes, there will be a 2010 census. And by early 2011, we will have counts of population that are preferable, by far, over the "intercensal estimates" discussed above. Demographers and census-watchers will have new numbers to crunch. And, in typical Minnesota fashion, we may learn that the counts exceeded our expectations in the dark, depressed days of December 2008.
#3. Yes, there is more to it. First and foremost, Minnesota households need to participate in the 2010 census. High levels of participation and response (80 to 100 percent) are the surest path to accurate, complete counts and reliable representation of our demographic diversity.
There will be communities and neighborhoods where response rates are just average (70 to 80 percent) or lower. This has been observed in past decennial censuses and is depicted in a special tabulation of census 2000 non-response rates online here.
Census Bureau enumerators, for their part, will work in all markets to gain the participation of population missed by the initial questionnaire mailings. Meanwhile, for local census partners and Complete Count Committees, areas with historically low responses are target markets deserving special attention.
Ultimately, the 2010 census needs to count everyone. Statisticians can impute counts of the missed, non-responding population. But considering the assumptions necessary to do this – assumptions concerning housing occupancy (and vacancy) rates and the characteristics of who was missed – we know this is not the best outcome. Counts are more complete and representative with greater participation. Friends of the census and community leaders need to emphasize:The census is a civic good. There is no risk involved in participating – personal information collected by the Census Bureau is confidential and protected by federal law. Finally, every census questionnaire matters.
Achieving a complete and accurate 2010 census is in our hands. See you in 2010.