Community organizers stress importance of completing census amid coronavirus pandemic

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CHICAGO — While many things have gotten lost in the shuffle during the COVID-19 pandemic, community organizers are working to make sure the census isn’t one of them.

For every individual that doesn’t participate in the census — young or old — $1,400 is lost every year for the next 10 years.

But community organizers are working to make sure that doesn’t happen.

So far, Illinois is ranked seventh in terms of filling out the census with a 61% response rate. But Cook County is well behind the collar counties with a 56% response rate. Chicago is even further behind at about 49%.

Bonnie DeShong is the first Vice President of South Central Community services. It’s one of many organizations working to improve Chicago’s census numbers and help individuals understand the census controls the dollars that come into a community.

“We’re finding that people are not trusting,” she said. “If 100,000 people live in a community, but if only 1,000 people fill out the census, the government says, ‘Oh, there’s only 1,000 people that live there so we could pull any money out of there and put it somewhere else because only 1,000 people need the services.’”

The pandemic has affected the ability to get the message out, but Michael Holmes of Community Assistance Programs said it’s also highlighted a major funding need: Health care.

“The disparities in the black community — in particular those disparities that might have existed for a while, but now with the virus people can really see just how much that means to be able to get those services. And how important those services are,” said Holmes.

Trust in the U.S. government also plays a role in the Latino community, according to local leaders.

“Because we do have a lot of people that are not citizens and, and they’d rather just be left alone and if it means not being counted, well fine. I’d rather not be counted than exposed,” said Dr. Juan Andrade Jr. of the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute.

He noted there is no citizenship question and information is confidential, but said many in the Latino community are very protective of younger family members and that has a cost to the community as a whole.

“In the 2010 census, Hispanic children under the age of 5 comprised 40% of all the children under 5 who were not counted in the 2010 census. That translates into 1 million children under the age of 5. It cost those communities $1.4 billion in federal funds,” he said.

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