Groups push for equal representation in 2020 census

Every 10 years, U.S. residents get counted in the Census. But it is not equally easy for all people to be included in the census, and students are among the most underrepresented. From April 1 to July 31, Chicagoans have their chance to be counted in the 2020 census. Until May, residents can respond via mail, or for the first time, by phone or online.  

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says getting an accurate count of Chicagoans in the 2020 census is critical to the financial wellbeing of the city. 

“10 years ago Chicago had a really abismal rate of only 66 percent of our residents getting counted,” Lightfoot told The DePaulia. “That means we lost revenue for each person that wasn’t counted, each year for 10 years.”

To make sure the number of people counted is higher in the upcoming 2020 census, Lightfoot has committed $2.7 million to aid in reaching hard-to-count communities. 

Hard-to-count (HTC) communities are defined as being impeded from “full and representative inclusion in the data collection process,” according to the Census Bureau. There are a range of reasons a community might be considered hard-to-count. Those experiencing homelessness, children under five,  communities of color and immigrants may all have difficulty being included in the tally. The consequences of an undercount range anywhere from insufficient allocation of federal funds to inaccurate representation in congress.

According to Pew Research, another hard-to-count population is college students. It is standard for housing departments of universities across the country to work with a Bureau employee to ensure that paper questionnaires are distributed in residence halls. At DePaul, students living in resident halls will be given Census forms to fill out, but the Bureau will rely on the University to report the number of students living on campus.

Additionally, there is confusion surrounding how DePaul plans to work with the Bureau to relay the data.Jim Motzer, an advisor and professor at DePaul, has been in contact with Bureau representatives. Since November, he’s been searching for the answer to how DePaul plans to distribute the Census to students living in on-campus housing. 

Motzer reached out to the 2020 Chicago Region Census Coordinator for Group Quarters, Shamiram William Youkhanna.  The Census Group Quarters team is responsible for counting students living in dorms and other Group Quarters situations such as nursing homes and prisons. Shamiram told Motzer that a letter went out Jan. 14 from Group Quarters to DePaul asking the school to choose one of five options for counting DePaul students living in dorms.

Motzer then reached out to Quiana Stone, associate director for Residential Education. The Housing Operations staff has historically worked with the Census. 

“I checked in with Quiana and she had not received the letter. Quiana said she would notify me when she received the letter or was contacted by the Census. I haven’t heard from Quiana,” Motzer said in an email. 

He doesn’t think anything negligent is going on, but he predicts there has been a lapse in updated contact information. 

According to Motzer, the Census Group Quarters team said the letter went out on schedule, but they didn’t know who it was addressed to. They said if they didn’t hear back by Feb. 3, they would do a follow-up call. 

Unlike other populations that can respond via phone or online, students living on campus can only fill out the paper Census, making DePaul’s comprehensive distribution of it all the more important. 

Select public relations students at DePaul are participating  in a competition aimed at rectifying the undercount of students. The Census Bureau partnered with the Public Relations Student Society of America, and chapters at schools throughout the country are creating campaigns to promote census awareness for students and renters. 

Junior Natalie Rohman is one of the students participating in the competition. Her team’s campaign “Love Where You Count” is aiming to increase participation from DePaul students that live off campus by focusing on appreciation for Chicago and education about how the census affects students’ daily lives. They’ll be hosting events throughout February and March to raise awareness. 

“People need to know that your count matters in terms of funding and where that’s allocated to,” Rohman said. “It determines where federal Pell grants go to fund scholarships. I’d think college students would want to know about that.”