News Local/State

Rural Illinois Prepares For 2020 Census

Elissa Johnson, regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau, presents to Illinois Rural partners.

Elissa Johnson, regional director for the U.S. Census Bureau, presents to Illinois Rural partners. Mary Hansen/NPR Illinois

Illinois is in a precarious position when it comes to the 2020 census. The count determines congressional representation, and the state is at risk for losing up to two seats.

Central and southern Illinois appear most vulnerable to losing a congressional seat, which is why it’s especially important to make sure everyone participates, according to Anita Banerji, director of the Democracy Initiative with Forefront Illinois. The Chicago-based civic engagement nonprofit has been working to ensure an accurate count.

Representatives from the farm bureau, local governments and other nonprofits met in Springfield recently to learn how to promote census participation in rural areas. About 12% of Illinois' population lives in small towns and sparsely populated areas. 

Banerji said there are unique challenges to getting an accurate count in these places.

“It's the lack of access to technology. It's the distrust in government,” she said. “It's the lack of awareness, lack of connectivity to community resources.”

Banerji said local and state governments should partner with churches, PTAs and farm bureaus to get the message out about participating in the census.

It's the lack of access to technology. It's the distrust in government."Anita Banerji, Forefront Illinois

“You've got so many different of these historically undercounted populations that are residing in rural Illinois, that the messaging looks different,” she said.

She presented with U.S. Census Bureau regional director Ellissa Johnson to the U.S. Department of Agricultural Illinois Rural partners.

Johnson said while the vast majority of households will get mail reminders to fill out the form online, certain households in rural areas will get a paper copy dropped off, which they can fill out and mail back. A map of those areas is on the Census website

The bureau is hiring more than 18,000 workers across the state to assist with the tally.

Johnson said they’re looking for individuals to go door-to-door to assist people who did not respond online after the mail-in reminders with filling out the forms.

“So we want to make sure that we're hiring individuals from certain communities,” she said. “If you live in that community, we want to make sure that we're hiring from those communities, so that people can be familiar with who's knocking on their doors.”

Macomb Mayor Mike Inman said only about 30% of the positions for census workers in McDonough County have been filled.

Inman said the pay is $17.50 per hour. He said mileage will be paid for workers who use their own vehicle for the job. And there is another reason why some people might find the temporary positions appealing.

"For those folks that are getting supplemental income from either SNAP or TANF or some other state or federal aid, this income will not affect those aid components to those individuals," he said.

Inman said training will start early next year and some positions could continue into early summer.

Information about census jobs can be found on the 2020 Census website.

The count begins in January with those in nursing homes, college dorms, prisons and other group housing. More information can be found on the website – census dot gov.

Residents can expect a first letter directing them to fill out census forms online in mid-March.

Mary Hansen is a reporter with NPR Illinois in Springfield. Follow her @maryfhansen.

Rich Egger with Tri-States Public Radio in Macomb contributed to this report.