The American Community Survey sends questionnaires to 250,000 households every month, then compiles the data into rolling multi-year averages.
It will soon replace the long-form census of social, economic and housing characteristics that's done every decade. The Census Bureau will continue its decennial count required by the U.S. Constitution.
According to this survey, the minority population in Isanti County was more than 2,300 last year, up from less than a thousand in the year 2000. That's an increase of 139 percent, but it's a little misleading because the numbers remain small.
"I haven't seen anything that shows our minority populations increasing to that degree," said Kevin VanHooser, director of the Isanti County Family Services.
In that role VanHooser has good insight about changes he sees on the ground.
"And for sure the people we serve, we haven't seen a big change in those numbers either," he said.
The survey shows similar numbers in Chisago County, where the minority population more than doubled. But county administrator John Moosey hasn't noticed anything that dramatic.
Moosey attributes any growth in the minority population to overall population growth. According to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, Chisago County's population grew 22 percent over the last seven years.
"Of course we've had an influx of new jobs, we've had Polaris come to Chisago County, we had Anderson Windows come to Chisago County, of course we've had the state prison come to Chisago County," Moosey said. "So we've had some economic growth and I'm sure that has led to some of those minority increases as well."
Chisago and Isanti counties, just north of the Twin Cities, aren't alone. A handful of other outstate counties, including Benton and Douglas in central Minnesota, show what appears to be a dramatic increase in their minority populations since 2000. But demographers say some of these percentage increases aren't a true representation of what's really happening, because these counties started out with small minority numbers.
In past years, the American Community Survey only included information on places with populations over 65,000. Now that it includes information on smaller counties, demographers say it's taking another major step toward providing better data.
"One of the things that this is doing is that it will provide us a bit of tracking before we get to the 2010 census," said state demographer Tom Gillaspy.
All the data just released are three-year averages, from 2005 through 2007. He said five-year estimates for smaller communities will be available by 2010. Gillaspy said this information will show how places are changing throughout the decade.
Gillaspy said it's tempting to compare this new data to the 2000 census, but it would be problematic to compare one point in time to multi-year averages. He said it's too soon to point to any historical trends because there isn't enough data to do so.
"There are some big changes happening," Gillaspy said. "Minnesota is becoming more diverse, seen in process for some time and counties in Minnesota that have historically not been diverse are beginning to change."
Gillaspy said those trends will become clearer over a period of time as the survey gathers more and more information each year.