By: Ryley Bruun, Writer
Issue: The Financial Impact of the U.S. Census on Illinois
Problem: Communities that have a low participation rate taking the U.S. Census will not receive as much financial aid from the federal government compared to communities with higher rates. This can create a vicious cycle where historically underinvested areas are also likely to be undercounted due to a low rate of civic participation. In effect, inequality continues to increase between communities who have high participation rates and communities that have lower rates of participation.
Background: Communities that have a low response rate to the U.S. Census are labeled as “hard-to-count populations” which the federal government statistically defines as a self-response rate lower than 73%, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services and data from the 2010 Census.
While Naperville has one of the highest participation rates in 2010 with 83%, the average participation rate of the entire state was only 70.5%. Currently, only 66.5% of Illinoisans have responded to the 2020 Census. In the town of Cicero only 46% of households have responded so far, compared to 61.8% that responded in 2010.
Comparing Naperville to Cicero, data shows the disparity in response rates and income levels. Naperville has a current response rate for the 2020 Census of 79.7%, whereas Cicero only has 46%. According to the 2010 Census data, Naperville has a population nearly double Cicero’s population, having both a higher per capita income of $53,061 (2018 dollars) and 67.8% of the population identified as white, non-Hispanic/Latinx. The town of Cicero has a per capita income of $17,221 (2018 dollars) and 89.2% of households identify as Hispanic/Latinx.
Even when comparing villages with similar populations, disparities are prevalent in hard-to-count communities. For example, Rolling Meadows, IL has a similar population of 23,532 to that of Maywood, IL which has 23,158. However, the response rate for Rolling Meadows is 75.3% whereas for Maywood the response rate is 57.2%. For Rolling Meadows, 90.4% of the people who have filled out the 2020 Census have done so online. In Maywood, 60.1% of people who have filled out the 2020 Census did so online. Maywood also has a poverty rate that is nearly three times that of Rolling Meadows (17.5% and 6%). Historically communities of color have a higher risk at being undercounted in the US Census. In Rolling Meadows 59.9% of the population identify as white, non-Hispanic/Latinx. In Maywood, 3.6% identify as white, non-Hispanic/Latinx.
Illinois received $19.7 billion in 2015 from the federal government equating to $1,535 per capita, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services. Other states, such as Minnesota, received $15 billion, with a per capita of roughly $2,796. The response rate for Minnesota is currently 71.3%, and in the 2010 Census was around 77%, which was one of the highest in the union. So while Illinois has a population nearly double that of Minnesota, Minnesota received more money per capita. The more people that are counted, the more federal funding that the state will receive overall. For larger states, this means that a lower count will lead to a lower funding per capita than smaller states who have a higher percent of the population being counted.
Previous and Contemporary solutions: It is vital for people to know that the Census can be filled out online. All residents have received Census letters in the mail earlier this year providing a Census ID to complete the Census online. There is also a way to fill out the Census if a household did not receive a Census ID.
The Census does not ask about citizenship status. This is important because some rhetoric may instill fear into people to not take the Census, which hurts communities that need the funding the most and are historically undercounted. According to Title 13, US Code, Census data cannot publish private information that would allow for any individual to be identifiable, such as addresses and names. In effect, such regulations can incentivize more individuals to take the Census knowing their information is protected and there will be no consequences on responses. All the questions the 2020 Census asks can be found on the US Census website.
On the local level, members of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights joined in a car-based march to get out the word in Little Village to fill out the 2020 Census. The Illinois Coalition for Immigration and Refugee Rights is working on getting people in hard to count communities to fill out the census in other areas in Illinois in partnership with 63 other partners. On June 17th, Illinois Immigrant and Refugee Census Day helped highlight how anyone who resides in the US can be counted on the 2020 Census.
Conclusion: It is important for the state and municipalities to have a high response rate on the 2020 Census because participation is directly related to monetary funding from the federal government. Undercounted communities, and states, will receive less aid than states and communities with a higher percentage of turnout. This creates a system that leads to perpetuating the cycle of disinvestment in communities that need critical funding. Historically, this is in communities of color and poor communities that are undercounted and thus underfunded. Especially in hard-to-count communities, it is important to spread the word and get community members to fill out the 2020 Census as everyone who resides in the US is able to do—and is required in the constitution to do so.