The state, with its significant hard-to-count population, could lose power and money if there’s not a full count in 2020.

By Kim Bellware

A U.S. Census Bureau official thanks residents for returning their census forms in 2010. (Photo: U.S. Census Bureau/Flickr)

A U.S. Census Bureau official thanks residents for returning their census forms in 2010. (Photo: U.S. Census Bureau/Flickr)

Two issues loom large in Illinois when it comes to accuracy of the 2020 Census count: cash and control. 

The census’s population count determines the number of seats for each state in the House of Representatives and how federal funds are distributed. Illinois receives about $34 billion in federal funding annually. Experts estimate that an undercount locally could be the difference between Illinois losing one or two Congressional seats.

The census is an enormous undertaking and in the past, billions of dollars in federal, state and private grants have supported outreach efforts. But local groups who spoke with City Bureau worry that Illinois is running behind in a year where stakes are high.

The agency responsible for the state count is the Illinois Complete Count Commission, created in 2017. Though it’s scheduled to meet in public on a monthly basis, so far this year two meetings have been canceled and decisions made at the remaining four were invalid due to a lack of quorum from in-person attendees (commissioners who participate via conference call don’t count toward a quorum). No minutes were posted from the April meeting. The meeting for May was "canceled due to one of the facilitators being sick,” according to a Documenter who showed up to cover the meeting, and most recently the June meeting scheduled for Tuesday was canceled

“[The Secretary of State] made the determination that we needed to sit down with the [Census Office] … due to the recent confirmation,” David Druker, a spokesman for the Secretary of State told City Bureau, citing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s creation of that office via executive order last week; this came after the Illinois budget was passed with $29 million earmarked for census outreach. Druker said the ICCC’s next meeting remains scheduled for July and will include the new office.

Regarding attendance at previous ICCC meetings, Druker noted the Secretary of State’s office only has a few appointees on the commission and couldn’t speak to attendance decisions made by other commissioners.

As of the last ICCC meeting on April 23, the agency had not yet hired a director or assistant director, in accordance with its own interim report recommendation.

At the city level, Chicago has a Complete Count Committee in place, though it has yet to take action. Mayor Lori Lightfoot has not yet said what she plans to do with the group, which was formed in April under her predecessor.

But a top-down approach won’t get Illinois to a full count, says Jay Young, executive director at the Chicago-based civic group, Common Cause. 

“This is something [communities] have to take responsibility for ourselves to make sure Illinois gets the slice of the pie that it deserves,” Young said. “The most valuable messenger for the Census is the person you see every day—the person on your bus, the person who does your hair … You care about roads? You should care about the Census. You care about crime victims? You should care about the Census.” 

One way is for residents to start or join a local Complete Count Committee for their town, block, church or neighborhood, he says, a practice which the Census Bureau encourages and for which it provides resources and guidelines. These hyperlocal groups can tailor outreach, participation and education efforts. Where a state-level commission can print PSAs and post FAQs, a community-level group might know the best farmer’s market, church or supermarket to post them in.

Find a local Complete Count Committee near you 

Young says local groups can provide further guidance—in Chicago, groups like Asian Americans Advancing Justice, The Urban League and the Illinois Commission for Immigrant and Refugee Rights are all participating in complete count efforts.

Why it matters

Illinois already lost one seat after the 2010 Census and stands to lose another, if not two, when the dust settles on 2020. Census numbers also determine school districts and state and local legislative boundaries

Congressional district lines are redrawn after each census once the House of Representative seats are reapportioned. The Chicago area has three majority-Black congressional districts—the 1st (Rep. Bobby Rush), the 2nd (Rep. Robin Kelly) and the 7th (Rep. Danny Davis). An undercount in these areas, which are high in historically hard-to-count groups, could spell the elimination of one of those districts; the same pattern holds for city-level ward boundaries. 

Ultimately, an undercount in Chicago threatens to dilute voting power among people who are already underrepresented.   

Related

Illinois ranks sixth nationally in the number of residents that are part of “hard to count” populations (like non-native English speakers and children under 5) and areas (which historically have low survey-return rates), according to a May 2019 report by the Chicago Urban League. Many of those populations are in Chicago. 

Per the report: 

  • Chicago ranks second in the country in the number of African Americans (600,000) who live in HTC tracts

  • ⅔ of African Americans in Chicago (66.7%) live in HTC tracts

  • More than 55% of children under age 5 live in HTC census tracts—that’s more than 100,000 of Chicago’s children, and the second most among all cities in the nation

  • More than 60% of Chicago’s Latinx residents live in HTC tracts—more than half a million people, the third-highest number in the nation. 

Upcoming meetings

Illinois Complete Count Commission
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
10 a.m.
Thompson Center - 100 W Randolph St Room 16-504

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