Has Covid-19 led to a shortfall in the 2020 census?

The 2020 Census is underway and local partners are urging citizens to participate in this year's decennial count.

To date, the state of Illinois has a total self-response rate of 65.6%. Of those who have already completed the census, over half of them have utilized the internet response option which is new this year. Local leaders at Blackhawk Hills Regional Council (BHRC) are tracking area response with weekly updates you can follow at www.nwilcounts.org/response-rates .

BHRC is the regional planning council for six counties in Northwest Illinois (Carroll, Jo Daviess, Stephenson, Ogle, Lee and Whiteside) and is promoting the 2020 Census in the region and has been sharing progress updates with these communities. Complete Count Coordinator Jessica Boettner has managed an extensive outreach campaign, in coordination with multiple Complete Count Committees, while GIS Mapping & Enterprise Zone Specialist Andy Shaw has produced maps and data analysis of the region's progress.

As evident in the data table, the counties of Northwest Illinois are reporting 12-23% lower response than the 2010 Census to date. In 2020, a major change in the questionnaire process occurred, along with the widespread operational delays due to COVID-19.

In 2010 and prior, the U.S. Census Bureau only offered participants the option to complete the paper form and return it by mail. If the form was not returned, enumerators would arrive at your door in May to offer home questionnaire assistance in order to increase participation.

During this decennial count, the census is now available to complete in three different forms: online, by phone or via the traditional paper format. Despite the additional response options now available and educational outreach efforts, response has lagged.

With the new options, a great deal of effort went into community education to inform the public. Business, faith and local city government partnerships have been instrumental to assist in these efforts. Partnerships amongst local volunteers paired with recruited U.S. Census Bureau employees aimed to launch the first digital census initiative. Public events were planned throughout the state for Spring 2020.

However, by March many of these plans were put on hold or cancelled altogether due to the new social distancing restrictions of COVID-19. Schools and non-essential businesses closed their doors. Cities cancelled mass gatherings. Of the essential businesses remaining, many scrambled to modify their go to market strategy. With the new threat to the existence of the economy, the census was no longer a high priority.

Unfortunately, many of the previously planned census related events were not able to take place and consequently less people were able to be informed through in person events typically associated with census activities. By now enumerators would've been collecting final responses and preparing to submit for future funding allocation. However, due to the COVID-19 delays, the U.S. Census Bureau has extended the self-response rate deadline until Oct. 31st.

Further, it was recently reported that some areas have not received an invitation to complete the census. This could represent another cause for lower response rates. Certain households were not sent reminders or paper forms until the beginning of June. In these types of communities, census workers will now be dropping off materials to homes while confirming or updating a household's physical address:

•P.O. boxes; homes affected by major disasters; city addresses for emergency services (i.e. 100 N. Main St.) but do not receive mail; areas with high concentrations of seasonally vacant homes

The last item in the list is thought to be a major factor in a disproportionately low response rate in Carroll and Jo Daviess counties, which is home to major seasonal and second home communities. Examples include but are not limited to Lake Carroll Association, Apple Canyon Lake and The Galena Territory. The Census Bureau is asking members of these communities to wait for a census enumerator to verify their address, while some area groups are urging these seasonal residents to count their auxiliary home as "0" occupants.

Despite delays caused by COVID-19, the tenacious efforts of many local advocates continue to press forward in encouraging census participation. Thankfully, there is still time to respond to the 2020 Census and it's more important than ever to do so! You can visit my2020census.gov to respond to the census online or call 844-330-2020 (English) or 844-468-2020 (Spanish).