Concerns of undercount linger in 2020 Census

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Chicago Urban League report says Illinois could lose millions in federal funding

With the 2020 Census set to begin in less than a year, Illinois remains at high risk of a population undercount due to significant barriers to census participation and the state’s large population of hard-to-count residents. An undercount would lead to a decrease in the federal funding that sustains more than 100 critical programs across the state—including Medicaid, which could be cut by about $122 million a year—as well as the loss of one or more seats in the U.S. Congress, according to a new report by the Chicago Urban League’s Research & Policy Center.

The report, titled “Money and Power: The Economic and Political Impact of the 2020 Census on Illinois,” notes that Illinois ranks 6th among states in the number of people designated as “Hard to Count” by the U.S. Census Bureau. Although areas throughout the state are considered Hard to Count, Chicago is home to a particularly large number of residents who are likely to be missed by the 2020 Census. The city ranks second in the nation in the number of Black residents and children under age five who live in Hard to Count census tracts and third in the number of Latinx residents in these areas.

Among other recommendations, the report calls on the state to allocate at least $33 million to support outreach to ensure that these populations are counted.

“The Chicago Urban League is committed to building strong, sustainable communities for all parts of our city,” said Interim President and CEO Barbara Lumpkin. “Both the city and the state have been experiencing population loss in recent years, due in part to limited resources and opportunities in many communities. However, millions of people still call Chicago and Illinois home. Adequate funding will be essential to ensuring an accurate census count and, therefore, helping to make communities more livable, stem population loss, and attract more people to our state.”

Illinois’ Black residents are among the hardest to count, with nearly 42% living in Hard to Count census tracts. Similarly, about 33% of Latinx residents and nearly 20% of children under age five live in Hard to Count areas. Together, these residents account for more than 1.67 million of the state’s population.

“While African Americans historically have been the hardest to count racial group, there is currently a high level of distrust about the federal government and the census that cuts across all groups, including rural residents, Latinx, immigrants and others,” said Kathie Kane-Willis, director of Policy and Advocacy and a member of the Illinois Complete Count Commission. “That’s why it’s especially important for the state to fund Get Out the Count Initiatives. A $1.2 billion loss over a decade is hardly chump change.”

The Research and Policy Center issue brief draws from the following data sources: the U.S. Census Bureau, the American Community Survey, and George Washington Institute on Public Policy, among others.

The brief recommends that local, county and state officials across Illinois take the following actions to help ensure an accurate count of the state’s residents:

  • Messaging and outreach should be tied to community benefits, come from trusted voices in communities, and be customized for each targeted community or population.
  • Provide adequate funding at the state and local levels for trusted community leaders and organizations. At the state level, allocate at least $33M for FY2020.
  • Ensure these funds are targeted toward Hard to Count populations across the state.
  • Create a fair and transparent process for the selection and distribution of grant funds.
  • Involve community experts in the determination of grant allocations.
  • Ensure that the Illinois Complete Count Commission is funded for both staff positions and operational costs.

“From Chicago to Cairo, from Springfield to the Quad cities, this is one issue all Illinoisans can agree on – we need an accurate count because we cannot afford to lose money or power, especially in this tight fiscal environment,” Lumpkin added.

Representatives from the Chicago Urban League sit on a number of committees designed to help ensure an accurate count in the 2020 Census, including the Illinois Complete Count Commission, Complete Count Census Commission for Cook County, and the City of Chicago Complete Committee.

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