The U.S. government will soon ask what some may consider to be prying questions: Do you own or rent your residence? How many people live in the household? What are their ages, sex and race? What’s your phone number?
While it may feel like a lot of information, local officials are spending energy – and millions of dollars – to encourage Illinois residents to respond to the U.S. census, the government’s once-per-decade effort to measure how many people live in each town, county and state, given that both money and representation are at stake.
“If you’re mad about your school being closed in your neighborhood, be counted. If you’re mad about the resources not coming to your community, be counted. If you like or dislike your local elected officials, be counted. That’s what the census is about: Where the resources go and who’s going to represent you in the next election,” said Chicago Ald. Howard Brookins Jr., 21st Ward.
For the first time, there’s an option in 2020 to be counted digitally – census forms can be submitted online as well as by mail and by phone.
That may make participating easier for some people, but not everyone has internet access.
Researchers with the Illinois Department of Human Services - University of Illinois Chicago’s 2020 Census Program overlaid areas classified by the census bureau as hard-to-count with a map of areas where 40% of households lack the internet. Many of those places overlap on the South and West sides of the city.
One of those researchers, Kathleen Yang-Clayton, says the state is most concerned about those hard-to-count populations.
Illinois has legitimately lost population in recent years, she said.
“That’s one thing. They went to Florida. Good luck, bring scuba gear,” Yang-Clayton said. “It’s the second group of people we’re really worried about.”
Hard-to-count groups include individuals who are homeless, disabled, or have criminal records; non-English speakers and those who live in rural areas.
Census forms will go out March 12.
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