The village of Forest Park has partnered with the Census Bureau to form a Complete Count Committee (CCC) for the run-up to the 2020 census.
“There are estimates for every person not counted, the village can lose $1,800. So this affects schools; it affects park districts; it affects every unit of government because we need the revenue,” Mayor Rory Hoskins said. “They use the census figures to factor in funding for road improvements, thinks like that.”
In 2010, just 74 percent of Forest Parkers participated in the census, which means that Forest Park lost approximately $18,000 for every individual who did not participate — or approximately $7.5 million annually. Hoskins said he planned to include every organization active in Forest Park in the Census Committee’s efforts, naming churches, the Forest Park Public library, Chamber of Commerce, and more as examples of institutions he hoped to partner with.
Dionne Roberts-Emegha, a census partnership specialist, said the organization has predicted that 20.5 percent of Forest Parkers will not participate in the census this time around, a slight increase from the 2010 count. She noted the fact that 10 percent of Forest Parker are foreign-born, and 55 percent are renters, and “those two factors alone would definitely contribute to harder-to-enumerate issues.”
She called Forest Park a “very affluent community,” since its average median income was at $65,000, but also noted that 11 percent of the children in the community live in poverty.
“So we do have some work to do there, and the CCC will definitely help,” Roberts-Emegha said.
She said the Census started engaging Forest Park in July 2017, when they held a “stakeholder meeting” to discuss general deadlines surrounding the census. This April, they had another, more detailed meeting regarding the formation of the CCC, which was followed up with another meeting in July, when the CCC was formed. She said the village has already committed to holding applicant days, when Forest Parkers can sign up to be recruiters for the census.
“That’s really significant because unless we have a workforce that reflects the diversity of the community, speaks the language and can communicate with the community, we are not likely to obtain the greatest trust,” Roberts-Emergha said.
She added that business leaders’ participation in the CCC is critical, since those who are most vulnerable tend to view the local businesses they frequent as a “trusted voice.”
Roberts-Emerha said an executive order has allowed the census bureau to move forward with printing questionnaires that do not include the controversial question of whether someone is a citizen. In response to what would happen if a last-minute action required the census to print the question, Roberts-Emegha said they are on a “very regimented timeline” for printing and mailing the questionnaires and that the census “really sticks to that schedule.”
“It’s critical for all populations but, of course, for our vulnerable populations that often go unseen but still rely on public services, it’s really critical” to participate, she said. “The federal government allocates $675 billion to states based on census data and, of course, cities and counties and local governments use census data to plan where to put bridges, roads, schools, etc. It’s really the reason why the census is important.”
This is the first year the census has been online — in 13 languages — and can also be completed by phone in 13 languages, or residents can complete the count by paper, which is available in 59 languages.
Hoskins said census workers will be at the Forest Park Ribfest on Sept. 7, as well as the Forest Park District 91 annual “Back to School” party on Aug. 16, and urged individuals to sign up for the census or take jobs with the bureau.
“We just need to make sure everyone gets counted, try to focus on hard-to-reach groups, like homeless persons, people whose first language is not English; they may be less likely to raise their hand be counted,” Hoskins said, adding that there are “certainly some” people who lack documentation in Forest Park, and that “these are not just the stereotypical Spanish-speaking people. They’re people who just overstay their visas; they may be from Europe, Asia, Africa … a lot of people in the service industry may not be documented.
“There are parents who lack documentation and their kids were born here. There may very well be parents of public school kids who just lack documentation, but we see them all the time.”
To those who lack documentation and may fear participating in the census, Hoskins repeated that the citizen question will not be on the census.
“They got to school here and they live here and the funding that we get for services is, in fact, based on the level of [census] participation,” Hoskins said. “We just have to make people aware of the fact that this particular census does not expose them.”