More than Just a Numbers Game: Census 2020

More than Just a Numbers Game: Census 2020

Special Report

On April 1, 2020, a Census will be taken of all persons living in the United States. While some may think the Census is much ado about not much, both state and city officials are working to make sure every resident is counted. 

Why is the 2020 Census important to Illinois? 

As reported by Northern Illinois University’s State Data Center, Census figures mean:

Money! Many of the services that we all use daily are partially, if not fully, funded through the federal government. Those allocations of funds are typically based on the population being served. Every ten years the Census does a 100% count of the population to have a baseline for funding allocation. If you are not in the count, then money will not be allocated for you to receive funding for disability services, housing vouchers, tuition assistance, roadway improvements, capital building projects, technology enhancements, etc. The first question asked when funding is concerned is how many people will be impacted by that funding. It is imperative to get as accurate of a count, including everyone, to make sure that Illinois gets a fair share.

Power is another big reason. Illinois currently has 18 out of 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Illinois, due to not growing as fast as other regions since 1910, has decreased from a high of 27 seats. The Congressional districts are redrawn every ten years based on the population counts from the Census. Due to Illinois losing population, and other states gaining in population, those seats will be reallocated according to populations on April 1, 2020. At this point, Illinois will lose another seat, potentially two, depending on the growth and loss of population from now until then. Losing two seats would certainly reduce the power Illinois has in Washington DC to get Illinois needs addressed.

What does it mean for Chicago?

An accurate count is crucial, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in August. For each person who is not counted by the Census, the city could lose out on $1,400 and representation in Congress. “The inclusion of every Chicagoan is essential to the 2020 Census count, and over the next several months our team will be working hard to ensure that all residents are counted, even in the hardest to reach places,” she said.

“There is so much at stake, with 132 programs that distribute $675 billion using Census data, ranging from Medicaid to federal direct student loans. Our communities rely on this funding, and we must ensure that all populations are represented and counted accurately. Our children, family, friends and neighbors depend on it,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

Mayor Lightfoot reported in October that it will take an “all hands on deck” effort to improve on the 66% response rate in the last Census. To meet the city’s goal of 75% participation in the Census count, Lightfoot is asking the City Council to set aside $2.7 million in the 2020 budget for community organizations to reach out to hard-to-count populations—immigrants, refugees, renters, the homeless; people with disabilities, non-English speakers, young children, seniors citizens, and college students.

Nearly half of the city’s population could be hard to count, said Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30), the chair of the City Council’s Census committee. The city plans to spend $2 for every hard-to-count resident, Lightfoot said. 

What’s being done about it?

Census 2020 Make Sure Illinois CountsThe Illinois Complete Count Commission, formed in 2017, is helping to educate communities, organizations and Illinois Residents about the importance of the upcoming 2020 Census. The Commission has subcommittees to help with education and outreach efforts, particularly to groups that are typically undercounted, including:

  • Veterans
  • Minority communities
  • College students
  • Foreign-born Illinois residents (documented and undocumented)
  • Retirees spending summer in Illinois and winter in warmer climates
  • Farm families residing in rural counties
  • Persons living in large housing units or apartment complexes
  • Children under age 5
  • The homeless

The City of Chicago has plans for helping every Chicagoan participate in the 2020 Census. The City is committed to: 

  • Ensuring a fair, complete, and accurate count of every individual living in Chicago.

  • Developing culturally-appropriate strategies for hard-to-count populations.

  • Mobilizing resources in an inclusive manner for Census hiring, public engagement, and outreach.

  • Ensuring digital access and equity during the first Census when a majority of Chicagoans will be invited to respond online.

It has launched the website,, to educate and reassure residents who might be unfamiliar or concerned about confidentiality of the information gathered. The website also presents a detailed Census timeline, ways to respond, and answers to questions residents might have.

The City also created a special committee in April to analyze previous Census data and recommend outreach strategies for 48% of Chicagoans living in hard-to-count communities on the South and West sides. The committee, which will meet monthly, consists of 30 community leaders, elected officials, advocates, organizers, and service providers. The committee will work on raising the response rate, which was one of the lowest in the country at 66% in 2010. 

League Logistics

LWVUS is leading local Leagues in Census-related activities, which include joining a Complete Count Committee, holding town halls or other educational programs, locating areas or demographic groups that may be considered hard to count, and partnering with diverse groups to get out the Census count and watch for local problems. 

As LWV Chicago President Annie Logue mentioned in her President’s column for this month’s Chicago Voter, LWV Chicago is looking for a Census Liaison. If you’d like to find out more about the Liaison role and find other ways to get involved, contact us at league [at]

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