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With census worries looming, Chicago and Cook County beef up counting efforts
Chicago, Cook County and the state of Illinois plan to spend more than $30 million on efforts to increase outreach for the 2020 census next spring. Billions in federal funds are at stake.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019
Crain's Chicago Business
by A.D. Quig

The city of Chicago is setting aside $2.7 million for 2020 census efforts and plans to partner with ad agency FCB to help get the word out. That adds to the $2 million committed by Cook County and $29 million committed by the state.

"Ten years ago, our response rate was a dismal 66 percent. That was among the worst participation levels of major cities in the country. I know this great city can do better, and quite frankly, we must do better," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. "This year, we set an ambitious goal to raise that participation rate to 75 percent."

City and county officials say that if residents are not accurately reflected in the count, local governments stand to lose $1,400 per person missed in 2020, or $14,000 per person over the next decade. Aside from redistricting, grant funding for programs like Medicaid, Head Start, SNAP, Section 8, Title I and special education grants depends on census data.

Illinois Business Immigration Coalition's executive director, Rebecca Shi, said a complete count is "critical to economic prosperity for all. Retailers rely on census data in determining where to open stores. Our TV and entertainment industry use census data on how to and where to market products, and the census determines the flow of over $4 trillion in private investments each year."

 

Lightfoot also directed city departments to help. "Chicago Public Schools are implementing a census-focused curriculum across the entire district. The Department of Family & Support Services is supporting the Census Bureau's push to hire culturally competent enumerators," she said at a press conference today. "Chicago Public Library branches will serve as critical hubs during the census, with internet access and trusted librarians supporting census completion with patrons. And the Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection is helping engage the small-business community to spread the word."

Roughly half of the city's 2.7 million residents are already considered "hard to count" by the U.S. Census Bureau—fears over immigration crackdowns have heightened some concern among immigrants and their families. This is also the first year residents will be asked to complete the census online.

"The city will rely upon funding to troubleshoot gaps residents may have in terms of accessing computers and the internet," a news release from the city says. "The funding will also support strategic coordination with government partners including Cook County, the state of Illinois and other members of the Complete Count Committee."

Hard-to-count populations include those that are hard to interview because of language barriers, low literacy, lack of internet access, homelessness or shifting living situations, suspicion of the government or low levels of civic participation.

Ninety-five percent of households should receive a census invitation in the mail in mid-March and be asked to respond online, by mail or by phone. They will be sent a reminder letter soon after. If households haven't yet responded, they'll receive a reminder postcard by early April. If they have not responded, they will receive a reminder letter and paper questionnaire by mid-April. If households don’t respond after that, enumerators will be deployed to try to reach people in person.

The county is a step ahead—it has already set aside $2 million for census efforts and chosen the winner of a request for proposals to spearhead communications and outreach: William Everett Group. The firm helped manage the city's 311 community engagement project, a county press release said.

"Their extensive work included a social media campaign and various materials in multiple languages, resulting in outreach that included a strong focus on hard-to-reach communities such as the homeless, African American, LGBTQ, Latinx, physically and mentally disabled residents," the county said in the release.



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