(June 27, 2019) – Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the untested citizenship question would not, for now, be allowed onto the 2020 Census. Given the unrelenting timetable, it seems unlikely that the citizenship question could be reinstated in time for Census 2020.
The addition of the citizenship question would have disproportionately discouraged census participation from immigrant communities and communities of color out of fear that the data collected could be used to target and deport family members. Lower response rates from these communities, because of a citizenship question, would have increased the likelihood of a severe undercount in Illinois, costing the state millions of dollars and causing communities of color to lose electoral power and representation in state and congressional office.
Despite the ruling, Illinois is still at risk of an undercount in 2020:
“We all lose, as a community and as a state if we don’t get everyone counted in 2020,” said Gloria Yen, Director of the New American Welcome Center at the University YMCA. “The Supreme Court’s decision is tremendous news, but it’s far from the only issue our hard-to-count communities face ahead of the 2020 Census. Every level of government must actively encourage participation and educate their residents about the importance of the census. Together with our partners, we are committed to ensure a safe, secure, and accurate count of the 24,000 immigrants in Champaign County.”
Lisa Wilson, Executive Director of the Refugee Center added, “Our clients rely on social services to assist them as they acclimate to the United States, learn English and search for employment. Without additional resources, many of our clients will need to work multiple low paying jobs in order to survive. This does not give them the opportunity to attend ESL classes, which is essential for eventually finding better paying, stable employment.”
The University Y New American Welcome Center coordinates a local #ILCountMeIn2020 Committee to ensure local immigrants are represented in our democracy and well served by it. Our partners include: the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, City of Champaign, City of Urbana, C-U Immigration Forum, Dharitree Ecosphere, and the Refugee Center. The Committee has been meeting monthly since April to develop and implement Census 2020 outreach strategies and programs to engage immigrant and other hard-to-count communities in Champaign County via trainings, educational workshops, communications, and other outreach activities.
The 2020 Census marks the first census that will be primarily online, which will negatively impact the responses from communities in rural areas and poor, urban communities without access to broadband. The Census Bureau has also been massively underfunded and under-capacity ahead of next year’s census count, which could also discourage census response rates.
How an undercount would impact Illinois:
Without a full and accurate Census count, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding is in jeopardy – funding that supports key state programs such as Medicaid, Head Start, and infrastructure funds to fix Illinois’ highways and bridges.
- A George Washington University study found that if Illinois misses even one percent of its residents in the 2020 Census count, the state will lose at least $120 million annually in federal grants.
- The Chicago Urban League estimates even higher financial losses for Illinois, stating in their report that a one percent undercount would amount to a $1.2 billion cut (over the next decade) for Medicaid funding alone.
- Any significant loss in funding from the federal government would make Illinois’ financial status even more fragile than it currently is and would likely cause additional budget and pension crises in Springfield as state lawmakers would be forced to try to make up for the lost federal dollars.
Exacerbation of gerrymandering and unrepresentative government
- Because legislative and congressional districts require equal population across each district, communities that are undercounted on paper inevitably will be packed into a fewer number of districts than they should be in reality.
- Illinois has lost one congressional seat after every census since 1950. This trend is almost certain to continue after the 2020 Census because of considerable population loss over the course of the last nine years. An undercount would cost our state a second congressional seat, shrinking Illinois’ congressional delegation from its current 18 seats to 16 in 2021.
What the state is doing to prepare for the 2020 Census:
The state budget recently signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker contains a $29 million appropriation for census outreach. The appropriation, housed in the Illinois Department of Human Services, would establish a grant-making process for community organizations and local units of government to apply to engage Illinois’ hard-to-count communities and educate them about the importance of the census.