Parts of Chicago’s South and West sides are at risk of being significantly undercounted in the 2020 census. With the count set to end on Sept. 30, Illinois, at last check, was tied for the sixth-highest response rate in the nation at 69.3%.
But the rate in Chicago isn’t as good, at 57.9%. And in some census tracts on the city’s South and West sides, the rates range from 25% to 50%.
“We’re working on the ground, we’re also making certain that we are … reaching out to all the community organizations within those neighborhoods,” said Marilyn Sanders, the Chicago regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau. “Right now in the city of Chicago, we have over 276 events planned … where we can safely go out to continue the messaging that the census is important, it’s safe, and it’s not too late to participate.”
Sanders says the bureau is committed to delivering an accurate count, and that meeting its goal is critical because of “the services that the census data informs; so many of our health services, educational services, things like libraries and road construction,” Sanders said. “For the next 10 years, these data will inform those decisions.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced changes for census takers who go door-to-door, with staff now wearing personal protective equipment and keeping their distance while interacting with people.
But many people also worry that politics will make it harder to get an accurate count. After the deadline was extended to the end of October, it was moved up to Sept. 30, creating fears of an undercount. The Trump administration has also ordered that undocumented immigrants be excluded when determining congressional seats, a move that’s being challenged in court.
Despite those fears, Sanders says the Census Bureau will count every resident of the country.
“We use trusted voices in those communities to educate and make certain they know the importance of the census and (that) our purpose, mission, and goal is to get a complete and accurate count,” said Sanders, who notes the Census Bureau will roll out paid advertising to boost response rates. “In addition, in some of those low-responding tracts we will start mailing out another questionnaire to those households to encourage them to participate in the census. But the 2020 census counts everyone.”
While the coronavirus has forced the bureau to make changes, Sanders says other changes this year have been positive, including the ability to respond online and by phone for the first time.
“We have seen that having the ability during this COVID-19 event to participate in the census online has helped us tremendously,” Sanders said. “However, historically we understand the need for the trusted voices to get behind us and help to educate the communities on how important the census is for resources coming back to their community.”