BELLEVILLE — The success of the 2020 census will largely depend on people answering the survey themselves, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That way, the bureau can dedicate fewer resources to finding and counting people.
Bureau officials have identified a number of factors that result in low self-response rates. These include areas with more minority residents, low-income households, frequent movers, renters and many other factors.
The bureau forecasts which census tracts, geographic zones with about 4,000 residents, will be the hardest to count. In the Metro East, all of the official hard-to-count tracts are in or around East St. Louis.
“There is a lack of internet, a lack of transportation, a lack of stable housing — especially the younger generation, they hop from house to house,” said Shannon Anderson, program manager at Teens Against Killing Everywhere, which is based in East St. Louis.
The city also has a lower educational attainment than other communities, and that can make reading and understanding the census more difficult for some residents, Anderson said.
“Now, everyone is not like that,” she added. “It’s just the percentages are higher in this sort of community.”
Other cities in the Metro East also face challenges to an accurate headcount — even if they’re not officially designated as a hard-to-count area.
Edwardsville had a high 82% self-response rate in 2010, but city officials are concerned about getting its student population counted in 2020, said city planner Emily Fultz. The city wants to make sure all students at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville respond as residents of Edwardsville.
“Younger college students are sometimes at that age where they still may be relying on parents or family members to help with certain things,” Fultz said. “This is something where we as a community are really relying on them to do on their own.”
It’s critical that students are initially counted by the headcount, because many of them will leave campus in May for summer break, before census enumerators would catch them in in-person follow-ups. The census tracks where individuals are living on April 1, 2020.
“We don’t want students living on campus to rely on their parents somewhere else in Illinois to count them,” Fultz said. “We want them to fill out their forms and be counted in Edwardsville.”
Cities receive around $164 per person per year from the state based on their official population as counted by the census.
Collinsville doesn’t have to worry about counting students, but city officials are concerned renters won’t fully count everyone in their households, assistant city manager Derek Jackson said.
“A lot of times they’ll withhold information,” Jackson said. “They fear that information is going to be relayed back to the city, and the city will be involved with occupancy load.”
Tenants may worry they’ll be evicted for having more people than is allowed by city rules, Jackson said. He added that census responses are confidential and that the city won’t receive detailed information from the government.
An accurate count is particularly important in Collinsville because the city could lose home rule status if the population falls below 25,000.
“At least with the estimates, we’re flirting with that [number],” Jackson said. “We feel, looking at our building permits, our demo permits, that we’re still above 25,000.”
Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.
Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid
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