by Cole Lauterbach
Forty mayors in total signed onto the letter delivered to U.S. Census director Steven Dillingham Thursday.
“As our cities continue to dedicate resources to respond to this outbreak and take strong precautionary measures to ensure social distancing, there will be diminished capacity to administer the Census,” they said. “A Census count under these circumstances would not only fail to properly account for our current population, particularly our most vulnerable residents, but could also have dire consequences for our communities’ public health.”
The mayors say the COVID-19 pandemic has severely hampered their local networks’ ability to ensure all are counted. The decennial Census has broad ramifications for state and local governments. Most federal aid is distributed based on formulas that consider population in some way.
The Census population figures are also used to align congressional and state-level district boundaries. Reapportionment happens in the year following the certification of the Census.
Fearing undercounts in many rural, minority areas of the nation, state and local officials have put tens of millions of dollars and countless work hours into outreach. The letter says those workers would now be put in danger interacting with residents who have not responded to the Census for one reason or another.
“These outreach strategies heavily rely on direct, face-to-face communication and interaction with residents to encourage participation in the Census and overcome barriers to participation that cause many communities to be historically undercounted,” they said.
This is the first U.S. Census that respondents can complete online. Nonetheless, they say many of the underserved communities they’re afraid of being undercounted are also lacking in terms of internet access.
Research from the Pew Research Center shows racial minorities, older adults, rural residents, and those with lower levels of education and income are less likely to have broadband service at home.
“These individuals would need access to one of the Census Bureau’s outreach sites that provide the public with an opportunity to access the Internet,” the letter said.
Officials from the Census weren’t immediately available to comment.
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Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
Photo “U.S. Census Worker” by U.S. Census Bureau.