After battling the pandemic, a couple of regional natural disasters and some political shenanigans, the 2020 Census is in the books. The first release of the census results shows that while everyone mattered, not everyone was counted. The first release also contains data to reshape the political/representative map. The second census release will include more demographic factors like race, ethnicity, education, age and gender for counties, cities and smaller municipalities and is expected to be available in August.
Illinois came up short again. After reapportionment, we will have just 17 delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives. That is one less than we had during the last decade. And it means we will have one less Electoral College vote for the next two presidential elections.
Actually, the state has been losing congressional representation since the 1930 Census when Illinois peaked at 27 congressmen. As recently as the 1980 Census, there were 22 representatives from Illinois. We have lost a total of five congressional seats since.
In addition to Illinois, six other states lost at least one congressional seat as a result of the latest census. Our loss is another state’s gain. A total of six states gained at least one new seat.
Certainly, undercounting is not the only reason we lose federal house seats. There is obviously outmigration. For the past seven years, residents have been leaving Illinois for greener pastures. The reasons vary and are irrelevant to the census.
Now that there will be one less congressional district, our congressional map must be redrawn to 17 funny looking puzzle piece districts. The redrawing must be completed in time for the 2022 elections. In Illinois, the state legislature draws the congressional districts, and certainly partisan politics plays a role. The Illinois Legislature is Democrat controlled. The process requires at least four public hearings to get feedback from residents and to inform them of the new legislative districts. Even less will care about that.
At least as important as the political restructuring as required by the census, the distribution of federal funding is also determined by those numbers. Nearly $2 trillion federal per year are distributed to the states for health care, education and other public services.
While the census is not scientific or perfectly accurate, it must be “fit for its constitutional and statutory purposes.” Meaning even at a cost of nearly $16 billion, the census can only count those who want to be counted. When more people require public services than federal dollars have been allocated to provide, somebody loses.
For whatever amount of any loss of federal funding we realize for the next decade, we will have no one to blame but those who refused to be counted. On second thought, some responsibility for our less than stellar census can be place directly on all of us. The importance of the census and the ramifications for not participating has never been taught or emphasized. The study of the census should carry the same educational weight as all other required academics. Maybe if we were taught the Pledge of Allegiance to the Census as well as to the flag, it would not take $16 billion to accomplish something less than complete and accurate.
An undercounted census is like a negative hit on your credit. It stays on there for a certain number of years, and you pay a heavy cost because of it.
It is great to matter. It is greater to be counted.