Census organizers face centuries-old issue of government mistrust

census moorhead parade float
Moorhead officials plan to deck out a city vehicle with census banners and signs and have it take part in the 2020 St. Patrick's Day Parade in downtown Fargo. This file photo is from the 2019 parade.
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MOORHEAD — The 2020 census is fast approaching, and organizers are employing a number of marketing ideas to put people at ease about participating in the once-per-decade tally of American households.

In Moorhead, city officials plan to deck out a city vehicle with census banners and other signage and use it as a float in Fargo-Moorhead's annual St. Patrick's Day parade, which is set for Saturday, March 14.

The city will also use things like public service messages over social media to invite traditionally difficult-to-reach populations to take part in the census, according to Joshua Huffman, Moorhead's community development program administrator.

Huffman said with help from Moorhead Area Public Schools the city determined which languages are being spoken in the area and the city's census messaging will strive to include communities that speak Somali, Spanish, Arabic and Kurdish.

Census organizers are stressing the dollars communities stand to lose if they don't reach every household.


In Minnesota, it is estimated that over a span of ten years the state loses about $28,000 for every individual not counted.

For a family of four, that's more than $100,000, Huffman said. "It's a very big deal," he added.

Huffman acknowledged one of the hurdles census workers face is a mindset among some that the government is not to be trusted.

It's a suspicion that has been around since the birth of the country, he said.

"Back in the first census in 1790, the founding fathers — Washington and Jefferson, particularly — feared it was a drastic under-count and they attributed it to fear the government was using the census as a basis for a tax," Huffman said.

He said the 2020 census is particularly important to Minnesota, which many feel is at risk of losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives based on population.

Susan Brower, Minnesota's state demographer, said whether the state keeps or loses the House seat could come down to a few thousand people.

In North Dakota, census organizers are eyeing a number of marketing approaches, including putting census information on pizza boxes and movie theater popcorn buckets.


A special effort is planned to reach certain populations, including new American and Native American communities.

Come what may, the 2020 census will likely result in one certainty when it comes to North Dakota's population, according to Kevin Iverson, state demographer and census office manager for the state.

"We're for sure going to roll over 700,000 for the first time," Iverson said.

North Dakota's population in 2020 is estimated to be about 761,000.

The last confirmed population for North Dakota was provided by the 2010 census, which put the number at around 672,000, a rise of nearly 5% from the census of 2000.

Iverson said North Dakota's census effort includes a budget of $100,000 to help local efforts, and only about $36,000 of that had been spoken for as of Friday, Feb. 21.

More information about how North Dakota is working to promote the census, or on how communities can apply for project funding assistance, can be found by going to or .

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at
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