There’s a whole lot of counting to do in Douglas County — and in every other community across the U.S.

It’s the 2020 Census, a mammoth undertaking that happens once a decade and provides vital information that determines not only population but other factors as well, including how many representatives each state gets in Congress.

There’s also a lot of money on the line. Each year, the federal government distributes more than $675 billion to states and communities based on U.S. Census Bureau data.

A catchphrase for the effort, listed on the Census Bureau website, is “Counting everyone once, only once, and in the right place.”

Locally, leaders from Douglas County and Alexandria are already on it. They’ve formed a “Complete Count Committee,” a core group of about 10 people who have been meeting over the course of the last several months.

Sara Stadtherr, communications coordinator for the city of Alexandria, said the committee has two goals:

  • Recruit people to work as census takers. “We need to get a lot of local people hired as census takers so everyone gets counted,” said Stadtherr. “Even people with full-time jobs can apply because census takers work part-time with flexible hours. It’s a great way to earn extra money.”

Because the Census Bureau plans to hire thousands of people across Minnesota and about 500,000 people nationwide, people need to apply now. In Douglas County, the jobs, which are temporary, pay $14 per hour, including training.

Census takers will be hired and trained next spring and will work from May to July 2020. Applications are online: 2020Census.gov/jobs.

  • Encourage people to fill out the census forms. Mailings will be sent to most households in March 2020 inviting them to fill out the census online. People can also complete the census by phone or by traditional paper form. Those who do not complete the census in one of those ways will get a visit from an official census taker.

This is the first census to offer the options to respond online or by phone.

Through the use of census data, the Complete Count Committee has identified two groups of people that are least likely to participate in responding to the census — senior citizens and college students.

“We are making an extra effort to make sure those people are counted,” Stadtherr said.

She noted that the director of Douglas County Senior Services, the director of the Alexandria Senior Center and the Douglas County Veterans Services director have all been attending committee meetings.

“They are trying to help us reach those groups of people,” Stadtherr said.

When asked if there’s anything people overlook about the census, Stadtherr said that not everyone realizes that the demographics are used for many different things.

“A restaurant – Chipotle, for instance – will look at the numbers and make decisions on where they should open,” she said. “The census can also determine how many veterans services we get. If we don’t have accurate numbers, we could be missing out on a lot of opportunities.”

Another point about the census that Stadtherr wanted to emphasize is that all the information that is gathered is kept confidential and safe. By law, the Census Bureau cannot release any identifiable information about you, your home or your business, even to law enforcement agencies.

The questions on the form are straightforward. A sample form on the U.S. Census Bureau asks, for example, how many people live at a residence, their ages, race, sex, how they are related to others living in the residence and whether the residence is owned or rented.

A controversial proposal to add a citizenship question to the Census was dropped.

“We want people to know the 2020 Census is easy to fill out, it’s safe and confidential, and it’s very important for our community,” Stadtherr said.

One last point to keep in mind: The Census Bureau will never ask certain questions, such as your social security number or bank or credit card account numbers. It also won’t ask for money or donations or anything on behalf of a political party.

To verify if someone is an actual census taker, you can ask for their official ID badge and you can call the Census Bureau verification number: 800-923-8282.

For more information, go to 2020Census.gov.