FARGO — The census count in North Dakota and Minnesota will soon be in full swing, but significant numbers of workers are still needed to ensure a thorough tally, according to regional demographics officials assisting the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Cass County, where up to 500 census counters may ultimately be hired, about 46% of needed workers have been hired.

In Clay County, about 38% of needed workers have been hired.

Those recent estimates are based on information that can be found on a Census Bureau website that tracks how hiring is going.

Kevin Iverson, North Dakota state demographer and census office manager for the state, said an accurate head count is critical for state and local agencies to get their fair share of federal program dollars.

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"We need to get the highest percentage response rate that we possibly can," Iverson said, adding that in order to do that, the Census Bureau needs local people who have the rapport required to get people to open their doors to be counted.

"Part of the reason I'm really concerned with this is, the census ran an earlier operation to verify addresses in North Dakota and to do that they had to hire about 90 people," Iverson said.

He added that only about 80 local workers could be found, so to finish the process, the Census Bureau resorted to hiring people from South Dakota and New York.

Among the downsides of hiring out-of-state workers, Iverson said, is that they may not have much success convincing people to participate in the counting phase of the census.

To aid recruitment of workers, Iverson said the Census Bureau recently boosted the pay it was offering people, and he said hiring numbers have increased since then. In Cass County, census worker pay is now $21 an hour.

'Good things flow'

In many western Minnesota counties like Clay County, census pay is $19 an hour.

So far, however, that amount does not seem to be enough to attract the number of needed workers, according to Susan Brower, Minnesota's state demographer.

Brower said it is important to find motivated workers who really want to see their communities do well, as census counts are tied to everything from political representation and government funding to business investments made in communities.

"There are all kinds of good things that flow to communities just because of this one count," Brower said.

"We've got this little chance to get it right, and after that, we're stuck with our number for another 10 years," she added.

When it comes to political representation, Brower said population estimates indicate Minnesota is on the edge of losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"In 2010, Minnesota received the very last House seat that there was to be given, we received the 435th seat out of 435," Brower said, adding that Minnesota secured that seat by a margin of about 8,000 people.

"That's a razor-thin margin for a state of 5.3 million," Brower said, adding, "We're right back there this time around."

According to Brower, whether Minnesota keeps or loses the House seat could come down to a few thousand people, "Something we can make up for with a good count," she added.

Iverson said the 2020 census count is expected to get underway around the second week of March, with census forms being sent to households.

In late April, census workers will start knocking on doors of households that didn't return mailed questionnaires.

Iverson said census workers, all of whom undergo background checks before being sent out to count heads, will have a list of just 10 questions for people to answer. He said census workers are required by law to keep any information they obtain regarding a household confidential.

If people don't answer their door or are otherwise not available, Iverson said census workers will talk to neighbors, landlords and mail carriers in an attempt to establish how many people are living at an address.

He said it's been estimated that more than 800 households in North Dakota were undercounted in past census efforts when it came to the number of children under 5 living in those households.

Overcoming mistrust

Reasons people may attempt to avoid being counted vary, Iverson said, but they include a general mistrust of government.

Iverson said some housing situations are unconventional and for one reason or another, people living in them prefer to stay off the government's radar. He said one such situation he could recall involved an instance in which he interviewed someone living in apartment built into the back of an airplane hangar that wasn't zoned for residential living.

It is estimated that for each person not counted in North Dakota, the state could loose about $19,000 over the course of 10 years. In Minnesota, the estimated loss of program dollars per person not counted is about $28,000 over a decade.

Anyone interested in working as a census take can apply online by visiting: https://2020census.gov/en/jobs/how-to-apply.html.

These are the 10 questions the Census Bureau has for every American household: name; phone number; age, sex; Hispanic origin; race; relationship to householder; household type (own/rent); number of people in household; and does the resident (or residents) usually stay or live somewhere else.

ND 2020 workshop

The North Dakota Census 2020 Task Force will host a Census 2020 workshop in Bismarck on Monday, Feb. 3, to provide training to help community leaders in the state get ready for the upcoming census count.

The event will be held at Bismarck State College's Energy Center of Excellence.

The activity is intended to provide "just-in-time" training for community leaders as the census prepares to shift into high gear, said Kevin Iverson, North Dakota Census Office manager.

Representatives from various communities have been invited to share tips on how to encourage participation in the census.

Individuals interested in attending the event can visit www.ndcensus2020.com, for more information.