When I first saw the commercials for the 2010 Census, I laughed and wondered why the Census Bureau felt the need to pay millions of dollars for weak, not-that-funny attempts to encourage people to fill out a form. Bureaucracy at its best, I thought.
But I recently found out this year’s census could affect the number of House of Representative seats Minnesota gets, and I suddenly began to care.
The census is taken every 10 years and the numbers are used to allocate federal funding and determine how many House of Representative seats each state gets. Minnesota is currently in a population-based “race” with a few other states. If the last available seat goes to another state because Minnesota’s population isn’t increasing as quickly, the number of Minnesota seats could drop from eight to seven, according to Election Data Services.
If Minnesota loses a seat, Minnesotan citizens lose some of their say in the national government. That’s why it’s important for every Minnesotan to fill out his or her census form, and especially important for college students.
College students have traditionally been underrepresented in the census. They ignore official-looking documents. “Oh, looks like something about government student loans. I’ll throw it on my desk to look at later.” Or students think that because they’re in college, they’ll be counted along with the rest of their family at their parents’ house.
But the census records where you live and sleep most of the time, so every student who lives on-campus or off-campus around St. Thomas would be counted there, even if they’re renting.
Another problem occurs when students don’t fill out the forms and census takers visit their houses to follow up. Many census takers visit houses in late spring, and if they come in May, students might have already moved back to their parents’ houses and might not get counted.
It’s not that difficult to fill out the form, and the questions aren’t overly personal. Of course, for college students the forms come at inconvenient times – around midterms and spring break. Still, it’s important to remember to send the form back in, because the more Minnesotans respond, the better the state’s chances of hanging on to that eighth seat.
State universities have been working hard to remind students to complete census forms because the schools’ federal funding depends partly on census counts.
Students at a Texas university created a census-themed “Real World” parody, a Missouri university gave out screwdriver sets with census information on them, and at the University of California, Berkeley, students who turn in census forms will be registered in a drawing to win free textbooks.
I don’t know of any census promotion events at St. Thomas, probably because federal funding isn’t as much of an issue for private schools, but St. Thomas students should still respond to the census. Even if a student isn’t originally from Minnesota, by going to college in Minnesota, that student is affected by the amount of federal funding Minnesota gets and the decisions Minnesotan representatives make.
Let’s help Minnesota keep all its seats in the House of Representatives by returning our 2010 Census forms and proving to the rest of the nation that college students do care about politics and what goes on in their state.
Katie Broadwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.