By Mariana Alfaro, Special to the Chicago Crusader
Chicago area community organizations are worried about an undercount in the 2020 Census that could lead to losses of federal funds for some of the region’s most marginalized populations, including children, veterans, African Americans and immigrants.
An accurate count is especially critical in Gary, where the population has plummeted from 178,000 in 1960 to an estimated 76,000 in 2016, according to the U.S. Census.
Alden Loury, of the Metropolitan Planning Council, said an inaccurate count will also deeply affect African Americans, who suffered from an undercount in 2010. It could result in possible cuts to services as well as representation in federal, county and city government.
Illinois stands to lose one or even two congressional seats. Likewise, African-American are likely to lose some seats on the county board and city council because of the marked decline in the black population, he added.
In the 2010 Census an estimated 800,000 African-Americans nationally were not counted, experts say.
“We’re talking about your infrastructure, your schools, your public health, public safety, clean environment,” said Rick Bryant, senior advisor to Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Matteson). “The money that the federal government sends back to states or cities or regions is based on your census, an accurate census, and if you want any of those programs to come back to your community you have a full count.”
Illinois gets nearly $20 billion dollars in federal money, Bryant said , adding that 31 percent of all federal dollars are distributed “in some sort of form based on census information” and the same is true of 75 percent of federal grants.
Bryant was one of the experts and officials from 14 Chicago-area organizations who took part in a news briefing at Columbia College Chicago to consider the issues raised by the upcoming Census. The event was held by Public Narrative and sponsored by the Democracy Fund.
“We wanted to plant seeds in journalist’s heads of how important this is,” said Susy Schultz, who leads Public Narrative. “There’s a real disconnect between what is going in the communities for this count versus what the media is reporting.”
The 2020 census will be the first-time people will be able to be counted online. It is also set to have a controversial questioning, asking people if they are citizens or not. The U.S. Census Bureau has not asked about citizenship status since 1950 its total count of the U.S. population.
As a result, 17 states, the District of Columbia and seven cities filed suit in early April against the U.S. government seeking to remove the citizenship question, saying it will discourage immigrants and members of mixed-status families from participating and result in an undercount. (Both Illinois and Chicago are part of that suit.)
Griselda Vega Samuel, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) said that “historically, Latinos have been undercounted because people are afraid to provide information,” And this question will most likely make people more afraid.
Yet, she said, MALDEF believes making sure every person is counted “is critical. From our perspective, educating people on the importance of the census is really important.” Vega Samuel said, MALDEF and its affiliates are waiting to see what the courts decide but will also “continue to come up with strategies to inform and advocate for the community.”
Julian Lazalde, of the National Immigrant Justice Center, compared the fear of the census’ citizenship question to the fear many immigrants had six years ago, when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy was announced. Back then, Lazalde said, people were scared to reveal their status to the government, fearful of how this information could be used in the future. Something similar is happening now.