This editorial ran in the March 8, 2019 edition of Sauk Valley Media.
State and local leaders are ramping up their efforts in preparation for the 2020 census. While the actual numbers won't be counted until next year, the importance of getting residents to respond can't be overstated.
The federal government does the head count every 10 years to update population numbers and demographics for every household in the country. For simple record-keeping purposes, it's obvious why this data needs to be accurate, but the numbers go a long way in determining government representation and how billions in federal money will be distributed.
The stakes are high for Illinois, as well as local governments and organizations. That is why the troops have been mobilized to attack any potential problems that could lead to state or local population numbers being underrepresented.
In a state that is losing population, fewer people means less representation in Congress. Illinois, with 18 congressional seats, has lost representation in every census done since the 1930s. An estimated population drop over the last 5 years indicates another will likely be lost in the 2020 count. The projections also create a real possibility of losing two seats if the state's residents are undercounted. With the loss of two electoral votes, Illinois would lose influence in presidential elections.
The loss of even one seat will also create the need for more redistricting. History tells us that redrawing those boundaries benefits the party in power, and gerrymandering has systematically diluted the power of the electorate.
The census data also dictates where more than $800 billion in federal funds will land. The money from more than 300 programs helps pay for everything from education and health care to infrastructure and veterans programs. Census-driven federal funds have brought up to $34 billion a year to the state since the last head count.
Several state programs also use the census numbers to determine who gets what locally — money and services for everything from local government and schools to housing, transportation and nonprofit organizations.
Census numbers can also be an important factor in economic development. Companies pay close attention to population and many of the demographic indicators that answer questions about workforce availability and quality. In addition, the census also drives certain development incentives, such as tax credits.
In the 2010 census, Illinois hasn't determined the exact number of uncounted Illinois residents, but there were enough to make a significant impact, according to reports from census outreach panels.
Studies by local government leaders show that one missed resident translates to a loss of $1,800 a year. Projected over the 10-year life of the census, that's $18,000 per person in reduced services.
Local outreach efforts will become much more evident this summer, as the census soldiers break camp for the front lines. Making sure you are counted in the 2020 census is one of the most important things you can do to guarantee a better future for Illinois and your community. Whether it be through door-to-door efforts, mail, email or by phone, it's never been more important to be counted. Stay tuned for more detailed information on the process.