mitchell, hairston, lowry

Left to right: Alds. Greg Mitchell (7th) and Leslie Hairston (5th) and Cook County Commissioner Bill Lowry (3rd) at a U.S. Census awareness meeting at the Quarry, 2423 E. 75th St.

Elected officials and representatives from the Census Bureau gave a public presentation on the decennial United States census to South Side residents Thursday evening in South Shore, emphasizing the importance of avoiding a significant undercount.

The meeting was convened by Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-2nd), who was scheduled to be there. Kelly canceled at the last minute to remain in Washington, D.C. for a possible vote on an emergency bill to deal with the coronavirus epidemic, according to her spokeswoman. Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore (4th) also could not attend.

But Alds. Greg Mitchell (7th) and Leslie Hairston (5th), as well as Cook County Commissioner Bill Lowry (3rd), were all present at the Quarry, 2423 E. 75th St. Each official spoke about the importance of limiting undercounting for the census, which began to accept responses online and by phone or mail yesterday, March 12.

The South Side is in particular danger of being undercounted. A 2019 report from the Chicago Urban League found that nearly 42 percent of Illinois’ Black residents live in “hard to count” census tracts, labeled as such because of low response rates to previous censuses. The report also found that an undercount in the state of one percent would cost billions of dollars in funding — Medicare, for instance, would receive $122 million less annually.

“We have the potential to lose in the next remap — if we are not counted — we could potentially lose 3 Black wards in the city of Chicago,” Hairston said. “Our voting strength will be diluted. I cannot stress that enough.”

“The last census we had we (got) $34 billion from the federal government,” said Lowry. “As we look around, especially where a lot of us spend a lot of our time, we still don't have enough resources. So we can't afford to lose federal funding because we have not counted folks who should be counted.”

Lowry also emphasized that there would be no citizenship question on the census. (The Supreme Court struck down the possible addition last summer.)

After the elected officials finished speaking, Jeanine Beasley, a media coordinator with the Census Bureau, gave a presentation with information about the census and outreach.

“Being counted in the 2020 census will allow you to shape your future for the next 10 years,” said Beasley, citing census-tied funding for infrastructure, healthcare and food stamps. “Right now we’re in the motivation phase. We’re motivating people to get counted and to participate.”

She also said that the Census Bureau does not share personal data — someone who lives in public housing, for instance, should still put down the correct number of people living in their apartment, even if there are more residents than the local housing authority allows. Beasley also said that everyone should be sure to put down the number of children living with them, noting that as many as a million minors had not been counted in the 2010 census.

April 1 is Census Day, and respondents to the census should use their address as of that day when filling it out. April is also when census takers will begin following up with people who have not yet answered the census. Between March 30 and April 1, the Census Bureau will also conduct a count of its homeless population, surveying people outdoors, as well as at shelters and soup kitchens.

In response to a question from an audience member, Beasley said that the Census Bureau will not send any fieldworkers into areas where there has been a coronavirus outbreak. As part of a public statement released on March 11, the agency also wrote: “The key message right now for anyone with questions about how COVID-19 will affect the 2020 Census: It has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker.”

After the meeting, Hairston told the Herald that she is working with the Census Bureau to make sure that students at the University of Chicago, which announced that it was transitioning to remote learning on March 30, will be counted at their Chicago addresses.

“The students are not going to be face-to-face, so I know that the Census Bureau works with the postal office so those people that have postal addresses will still receive information just like everyone else,” she said. “It’s important — they spend most of their time there.”

Reporter

Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

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