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Census Begins Door Knocking Across Illinois, As Advocates Worry About Shortened Response Time

Census takers are required to wear a mask, according to the Census Bureau.
U.S. Census Bureau
Census takers are required to wear a mask, according to the Census Bureau.

People in Illinois who have not yet filled out their census forms will soon get a knock at their door.

Workers with the U.S. Census Bureau start canvassing door-to-door on Tuesday in most of the state, after in-person follow-up started in parts of Chicago, Cook County, Peoria and Dekalb last month.

A little more than 30% of households in the state still need to fill out the population survey, which they can do online, by mail or over the phone.

Meanwhile, advocates for an accurate count are raising concerns after the bureau shortened the response timeframe.

“In many cases, it's up to five or six times that the Census Bureau provides for the opportunity for enumerators to go to these households,” said Anita Banerji, director of the Democracy Initiative at Forefront Illinois – a civic engagement non-profit. “By shortening the timeframe, we don't know that those five or six knocks will actually in fact occur.”

Banerji said it’s particularly important for parts of the state where fewer people have responded.

“When we look at the rural part of our state, when we look at Hardin County, we look at Southern Illinois, we look at East St. Louis, these numbers still need to be increased,” she said. “And we really need that extra time to ensure that we are doing all that we can to get our communities counted.”

After operations were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the once-in-a-decade population count was supposed to wrap up at the end of October. The new deadline is the end of September.

Forefront Illinois and dozens of organizations and local governments wrote an open letter to Illinois’ Congressional delegation calling for the bureau to reconsider.

“As Census advocates, we are concerned that this shortened period will affect the Census count in communities across the State, particularly in historically undercounted communities,” the letter reads.

NPR reports the bureau changed the date because of pressure to meet the December 31 deadline to provide to the president population totals for Congressional reapportionment. The Census Bureau previously asked for an extension.

For in-person follow-up, census takers will wear masks and follow local public health guidelines, according to the Census Bureau. They’ll have a government ID badge with their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date.

Banerji said to avoid getting a visit, people can fill out the survey online.

Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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