Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau begins the process of counting every person living in the country, in part, to ensure that federal dollars are properly being allocated to states. The census guides and informs how much in federal funding Illinois, and every state, receives. To put it in context, the 2010 census results drove the allocation of $34.3 billion in federal funding, according to a report by the George Washington Institute of Public Policy. Yes, that's a billion with a “B.”
The federal government has counted its people since 1790. So why has the process of collecting U.S. population data become so difficult this time around?
First, there was an attempt by the federal administration to include a citizenship status question on the census. The last time this was done was in 1950. Doing so jeopardizes an accurate count, as it instills fear and creates apprehension for undocumented people over being counted. In Illinois alone, the Pew Research Center estimates that there are nearly 400,000 undocumented people, and not counting 400,000 people can have a devastating effect. It will mean lost funding and resources for our state for 10 years. Although the question did not make it on the 2020 census, the fear mongering it created did significant damage and made it extraordinarily difficult to get a full count. Census advocates have continued to work doubly hard to combat the misinformation and fear that battle caused, but it has been difficult to gain trust from people in communities who feared they would be asked about their citizenship status.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, adding a whole other dimension of difficulty to the challenge of getting a full count. Again, advocates across the state got creative about how to safely work for a full count during a lockdown when they could not go door to door. You might have received a robo-call or text, an email, or have seen information about the census in a newsletter or in a tweet, or even noticed a caravan of cars honking around town to get your attention to encourage you to complete the census.
Now, the administration is cutting the census timeline short by a month, making it nearly impossible for the Census Bureau to get an accurate and complete count.
Why should you care?
The undermining of our decennial census, which previously has occurred through wars, recessions and natural disasters, is dangerous. An undercount risks Illinois losing another congressional seat, in addition to one seat we already are projected to lose due to population loss. It also risks those billions of dollars in federal aid so desperately needed in Illinois, particularly in Black and Brown communities. A rushed census count could result in essentially erasing people in communities that have historically been hard to count. We must get everyone in Illinois counted and we need the time to do that.
So what can you do?
Complete your census and then ask all of your family, friends, neighbors to complete theirs, too. For the first time in census history, you can complete the census online. Go to: my2020census.gov
Contact your U.S. Senators and members of Congress. Tell them we need Congress to act to extend the census collection deadline back through October in order to ensure a full and accurate count.
The truth is that if we do not get an accurate count, Illinois will suffer and it will affect all of us, regardless of our citizenship status, our zip code or how we vote. And we’ll all have to live with that for the next 10 years.
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