WORTHINGTON - Several states fear the Trump administration’s decision to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census will create undercounts in large metropolitan cities, granting excess political representation to rural communities.

But with its considerable minority population - and specifically a large percentage of residents who are not U.S. citizens - experts say the small, rural city of Worthington faces a high risk of a substantial undercount.

Worthington leaders believe the city is already undercounted. A major undercount holds consequences, directly impacting the city’s federal and state funding and potentially limiting its access to government programs and grants.

The American Community Survey (ACS), sent to 3.5 million households every year, already includes the citizenship question. In 2016, the survey estimated Worthington’s population at 13,136 - lower than the Minnesota State Demographic Center’s 2016 estimate of 13,288.

The ACS estimates Worthington contains 3,181 non-citizens, out of an extrapolated sample of 13,036 people. Non-citizens include those in the U.S. legally, such as residents with green cards or legal permanent status.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

That would mean 24.2 percent of the city’s population is made up of non-citizens. That number easily crushes the ratio in large, diverse population centers such as St. Paul, Minneapolis and Rochester, which sit at 9.6, 8.7 and 7 percent, respectively.

In fact, it’s one of the largest ratios in the country, according to ACS data. As the ACS is a survey and not a count, the estimates have massive margins of error. The ACS says the number of non-citizens in Worthington could be off by as much as 329 people in either direction, or more than 10 percent of the estimated population.

Why might this question create an undercount?

Experts say the question could intimidate non-citizens or those with connections to non-citizens, making them less likely to comply with the census.

Ryan Allen, director of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs’ Urban & Regional Planning Program at the University of Minnesota, said the census already undercounts immigrant populations - without the need for a citizenship question. The Census Bureau has said it missed 1.5 percent of all Latinos in 2010.

“Scholars and folks that are familiar with the Census Bureau believe there is a systematic undercount of hard-to-count populations, which includes immigrants,” Allen said. “Anyone who doesn’t have English as a first language, for example, there are reasons to believe they are not counted as accurately as those who do.”

The ACS estimates 4,213 foreign-born people live in Worthington. By adding the citizenship question, Allen said the problem could be exacerbated, even among those here legally.

“People could have relatives who are unauthorized, it could be people who are just suspicious of how the government would use it, given the rhetoric coming out of Washington these days on immigration,” Allen said. “In some cases, immigrants are coming from countries where the government can be predatory and it’s not necessarily a trusted entity.”

Though the Census Bureau is not allowed to share personal information with law enforcement, Allen noted that protection has been bypassed before. In 2007, historians found that the U.S. Government had used data from the 1940 Census to track down Japanese Americans when it implemented internment camps during World War II.

Last fall, the Census Bureau said its staff members reported an increased fear among immigrants that their information would be used against them and their families.

So what?

On a national level, several states that could lose funding and congressional representation have sued the Trump administration in an attempt to stop the new question from being implemented. Minnesota will, as well, as some experts say that with enough of an undercount, the Land of 10,000 Lakes could lose a congressional seat.

For Worthington, much of the damage from an undercount would be felt in state and federal funding.

The Census Bureau found that 132 programs used Census Bureau data to distribute more than $675 billion in funds during fiscal year 2015. Minnesota local government aid (LGA) uses some statistics from the decennial census and the ACS, rather than the state’s own projections.

“We’ve got a lot to lose down here,” said Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle. “A lot of state and federal funding is based on our population, and that could affect our funding. Program eligibility, too, is based on incomes and population, so we may not be eligible for certain low-income housing or perhaps market rate housing programs if everyone isn’t counted.”

Immigrants have been a big part of Worthington’s community for a long time and need to be counted properly, Kuhle said.

“They’re living here and we’re supporting them in our community,” Kuhle said. “They make up a large percentage of our workforce and we’re supporting them with streets, police, fire, sewer, water. Everyone’s got to be counted that lives in the city.”

Federal grants in particular use population and income data to determine eligibility of certain cities.

“If a community like Worthington were to apply for a federal grant, they would look at things like the census and the ACS to understand their eligibility and understand the economic and demographic situation,” said Neil Linscheid, who serves southern Minnesota as an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality.

An undercount could affect the city’s economic development, too. For many businesses, census data is the first thing they will look at when exploring a new market, said Abraham Algadi, executive director of the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp.

“A lot of investors have a criteria, and it’s often built on census results,” Algadi said. “There’s some businesses that won’t locate in a market with less than 25,000 or 15,000 people.”

The census isn’t everything though, Algadi said. Many larger businesses have access to other information.

“While census is important and they offer first glance into market, they often dig deeper into behavioral economics: how do consumers behave, what is their disposable income, what are the gaps in the market and so on,” Algadi said.

For example, every time a store asks for a customer’s ZIP code, it’s really collecting data on where its customers are coming from. Large private companies compile data that is more specific and market-based.

However, for smaller businesses that don’t have access to expensive private data, the census is their best resource, Algadi said.

“If you limit and prevent folks from volunteering information about household income, status, number of people living in a locality and other factors, then obviously you're creating more obstacles in the way of business,” Algadi said.

The citizenship question has not been on the regular, short form census since 1950. In 2000, the 20 percent of residents who received a long form questionnaire were asked, "Is this person a CITIZEN of the United States?" The long form questionnaire was eliminated after 2000.

On Tuesday, New York state, along with 16 other states and seven cities, introduced a lawsuit against the Census Bureau and Commerce Department to try to remove the new citizenship question from the 2020 census.