Minnesota tops nation in census response — with a familiar rival

An envelope containing a 2018 census letter
An envelope containing a 2018 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident as part of the nation's only test run of the 2020 Census. As of Wednesday, Minnesota and Wisconsin have more than 46 percent response rates to the 2020 census questionnaire. That’s higher than any other state in the nation.
Michelle R. Smith | AP Photo 2018

Minnesotans are responding to the 2020 U.S. census faster than residents of every other state. Well, almost every other state, and Minnesotans might find their rival for census responses to be a familiar one: Wisconsin.

The two Midwestern neighbors and occasional rivals both have had 46.4 percent of their households fill out census forms as of Wednesday. That’s higher than any other state in the nation, including fellow Midwestern states Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan, which occupy the third, fourth and fifth places.

Census response rate by state. Minnesota's tied for first as of April 1.

The national response rate is 38.4 percent.

April 1 isn’t just a random date for the U.S census. It happens to be “Census Day,” the point-in-time for which the 2020 census is measuring population. Respondents are supposed to list anyone living in their household as of April 1, regardless of when they fill out the form.

The census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution, which requires a count of the country’s population every 10 years in Article 1, Section 2.

The census is serious business — population counts in the census determine how many members of the House of Representatives each state gets. It’s especially serious for Minnesota, which is in danger of losing one of its eight House seats to a faster-growing state. States that do a better job of getting all their residents counted might have an edge when congressional seats are apportioned for the 2022 elections.

“The latest numbers suggest that Minnesota could lose a seat by anywhere between 7,000 and 22,000 people, which is a very small number,” said Susan Brower, the Minnesota state demographer. “That's a number that could be easily made up with a good count. We are absolutely at risk of losing that seat, but it's not a foregone conclusion.”

The 2020 census can be completed entirely online, a particularly important fact in a time of social distancing. Visit my2020census.gov to complete the form. The census deadline is Aug. 14.

Starting May, U.S. Census Bureau employees are scheduled to reach out to homes that haven’t responded, though this could be affected by COVID-19. The Census Bureau has already suspended field operations through April 15.

The virus and stay-at-home orders issued to try to contain it have upended plans around the state to promote census participation. Brower said many local groups were planning Census Day events on April 1, but have had to hastily switch to digital outreach when in-person events were banned.

Within Minnesota, the best response rates have been in the Twin Cities suburbs — as well as Rock County in the far southwest corner of Minnesota, which leads the state with 53.7 percent response. Carver, Scott, Anoka, Washington and Dakota counties all have response rates above 51 percent through April 1, as do Nicollet and Sherburne counties. Hennepin and Ramsey counties are slightly behind, but still ahead of the state average, at 49.7 and 49.4 percent, respectively.

The lowest response rates are in northern Minnesota. Fewer than 10 percent of households have filled out their census in Cook, Mahnomen and Lake of the Woods counties.

Census response rate by Minnesota county

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