Kankakee population sign

According to 2020 Census data released Friday, the City of Kankakee’s population fell from 27,537 in the 2010 count to 24,052 in 2020, a 12.6 percent plunge.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the timeline and process for a recount. The Census Bureau provided more details on the Count Question Resolution program here.

KANKAKEE — Whatever the process entails, the Kankakee City Council appears to have already come to the conclusion that the 2020 U.S. Census figures cannot stand.

While no formal action has yet to be taken, Kankakee has committed to a census do-over.

At the conclusion of Monday’s Kankakee City Council meeting, council members David Baron and Mike O’Brien, both D-2, expressed displeasure regarding the city’s count and Mayor Chris Curtis reiterated his disbelief that the city could have lost 12.6 percent of its population during the past 10 years.

Baron and O’Brien stated there is simply too much funding at stake to let these numbers stand and they stated the loss of the municipality’s Home Rule authority would jeopardize the city’s ability to quickly adjust to the needs of developers and city departments.

Baron characterized getting an accurate census count as a “top priority” for the city.

According to U.S. Census figures released late last week, Kankakee lost 12.6 percent of its population. The census report stated Kankakee’s population dropped from 27,537 in 2010 to 24,052 in 2020.

Kankakee County’s population also dropped from 113,449 in 2010 to 107,502 in 2020, a 5.2 percent decline.

The process

The first step in a census challenge is to review the results through the federal Census Count Question Resolution Program.

A request for a challenge to the population estimates must be received by June 30, 2023. This request must include a letter and supporting evidence. If a community does not get its questions answered through this procedure of further examining the data, it can request a recount. 

Typically, the community challenging the count pays for the recount.

But the cost of a successful challenge can be worth the investment, city officials say. Census figures determine how much money is allocated to communities and those allocations use those figures for the following 10 years.

The loss would be twofold for Kankakee. Not only would the city lose some of its federal funding due to the population drop, but it would likely lose its Home Rule authority as voters could present a referendum to have that title and its corresponding abilities taken away.

Home Rule authority is set aside for municipalities with populations of 25,000 or more.

Curtis said to believe these figures, one would have to assume that based on a household of four residents, that city would have some 800 additional dwellings empty — or about 115 per ward.

He said he does not believe there are that many houses or apartments empty.

“There is no doubt we will file an appeal,” Curtis said after the meeting. “These figures affect everything. I simply don’t see how these numbers can be correct. This is not an accurate count.”

There is concern among many communities across Kankakee County, the state and the nation that the numbers are far from accurate.

Many argue that 2020 was an extremely inopportune time to conduct a census. Due to the pandemic, the normal door-to-door campaign to gather information from unresponding addresses was greatly hampered.

Response rates were lower than normal across the board.

Near the conclusion of Monday’s meeting, Baron said any measure to get a more accurate count must be taken.

“These are problematic numbers,” he said.

Lee Provost, an award-winning reporter, has been writing local news stories for The Daily Journal since 1988. He is a lifelong resident of the region. Provost can be reached at lprovost@daily-journal.com.