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Local Editorials

OUR VIEW: Still in Illinois? Reach out and be counted

New population loss estimates make the census process even more important

The news that Illinois has experienced more population loss than any other state in the last decade shouldn’t come as a surprise to its residents, but it is still disconcerting.

The state has lost 159,700 people since 2010, and a loss of 51,250 in 2019, as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau, indicates that the pace of the downward spiral is accelerating.

In a story in today’s SV Weekend, we learn that the Sauk Valley is in lockstep with that dubious trend. In the 5-county region – Whiteside, Lee, Ogle, Bureau and Carroll – Whiteside has lost the most residents since 2010, 2,868 – about 5 percent of its population. Ogle County was next with a loss of 2,574 people, Bureau County dropped by 1,987, Lee County lost 1,808, and Carroll County decreased by 1,079 people. Most counties have seen a steady decline since 2000.

The grim population loss numbers mean that even more is riding on the accuracy of the 2020 census process. Mailings will arrive in March, and it’s critical that everyone in Illinois is counted. The stakes are high not only for the state, but for local government bodies and organizations.

The numbers aren’t just used to fill marketing brochures – they go a long way in determining government representation and how billions in federal dollars will be distributed.

Illinois has 18 congressional seats after losing a lawmaker in every census done since the 1930s. After the release of the most recent population estimates, it’s almost a given that Illinois will lose another representative in the next census. If the state’s population is underrepresented, two seats could be lost, which also means two fewer electoral votes.

The loss of congressional seats will then trigger more redistricting. In Illinois, that process always works to the benefit of the party in power – more gerrymandering and less clout for the voters.

The census data also dictates where more than $800 billion in federal funds will land. The money from more than 300 programs helps pay for everything from education and health care to infrastructure and veterans programs. Census-driven federal funds have brought up to $34 billion a year to the state since the last head count.

Several state programs also use the census numbers to determine who gets what locally – money and services for everything from local government and schools to housing, transportation and nonprofit organizations.

Census numbers can also be an important factor in economic development. Companies pay close attention to population and many of the demographic indicators that answer questions about workforce availability and quality. In addition, the census also drives certain development incentives, such as tax credits.

In the 2010 census, Illinois hasn’t determined the exact number of uncounted Illinois residents, but there were enough to make a significant impact, according to reports from census outreach panels.

Studies by local government leaders show that one missed resident translates to a loss of $1,800 a year. Projected over the 10-year life of the census, that’s $18,000 per person in reduced services.

Making sure you are counted in the 2020 census is one of the most important things you can do to help build a better future for Illinois and your community. Whether it be through door-to-door efforts, mail, email or by phone, it’s never been more important to be counted.

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