An incomplete Census count will exacerbate inequities of the region - Metropolitan Planning Council

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An incomplete Census count will exacerbate inequities of the region

How an inaccurate Census will impact black and brown communities the hardest

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The Census is occurring during an unprecedented worldwide crisis, COVID-19. With only a month into the 2020 Census outreach efforts, the Census Bureau and Get-Out-The-Count community groups and advocates have adapted their traditional face-to-face interactions. Instead of meeting residents through door knocking and neighborhood fairs, efforts have shifted to virtual reminders and phone operations. The 2020 Census is unique in many ways—the biggest change from previous years is that this Census is primarily conducted over the internet. Thus, a "digital divide" challenges outreach to vulnerable populations in which individuals may not be savvy with technology or may lack the devices and equipment altogether may not be reached effectively.

The Census Bureau has even been granted an extension for appropriation numbers to the White House by an additional two weeks. Census operations have an uncertain date for when outreach will return to in-person reminders and intake, due to the pandemic. This risks undercounting vulnerable populations that were hard to count to begin with: children, rural residents, individuals of color, immigrants, homeless, and others.

The state of Illinois hosts many vulnerable populations, has been seeing a population decrease through the years, and may lose up to two seats in Congress. As of April 30, Illinois' household response rate was 59.6% (70.5% in 2010). In comparison to our neighbors, Wisconsin is at 62.1% (73.5% in 2010) and Iowa is at 62.5% (73.0% in 2010). By looking closely at Chicago—where many individuals of color, immigrants, homeless and children live—the city is currently at a household response rate of about 49% (62.4% in 2010).

The communities of color that have been historically harmed by segregation through de jure (by law, such as the Jim Crow laws) and de facto (by fact, such as school districts) are the same communities who are likely to be undercounted and thus negatively impacted through diminished political representation (or the lack thereof) and decreased federal government allocations to services such as healthcare, transportation, and education in their neighborhoods. The south and west sides of Chicago and neighboring suburbs with sizeable low-income, black and immigrant populations are performing at or lower than the city's average (49%) while some more affluent, predominantly white neighborhoods have self-response rates over 70%.

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An attempt at a complete count under these abnormal circumstances will exacerbate the inequities prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Similar to COVID-19's impacts on the black and brown communities in Chicago where individuals are more likely to be essential workers and have higher death rates, some inequities of the region can be traced to the Census: who is counted, who has representation, and who has resources. Chicagoland will face many outstanding issues that will be perpetuated with an inaccurate and incomplete Census count. The Census aims to count every individual once and at the right place and can be successful in determining the future for the next 10 years if we all complete the Census today.

To fill out the Census, please visit for the short form that will take less than 10 minutes to complete!

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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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