Illinois low census response puts federal dollars at risk

A low census response rate in southern Illinois is putting millions of federal dollars for infrastructure improvements, education and social service programs at risk.

As of Monday, only about 46% of Carbondale households had responded to the 2020 census survey, The Southern Illinoisan reports. City officials estimate a loss of about $1,600 per year for every person who fails to respond — or $16,000 over a decade. The census count concludes Sept. 30.

Most southern Illinois counties’ response rate is significantly below the overall Illinois response rate of 69%.

Carbondale Planning Director Chris Wallace said the city’s low response rate is mostly tied to Southern Illinois University students. College students are counted in the community where they attend school, not where their home address is. He says the student population is traditionally hard to reach and the coronavirus pandemic has made it even harder.

Students have not returned to campus since spring break due to the pandemic. Jeanine Beasley, media coordinator for the U.S. Census Bureau’s Chicago office, said the agency is working directly with the university to count students who were living both on and off campus during the spring semester.

Beasley noted census-takers are currently in the field visiting the homes of people who have not responded to multiple requests for information, while adhering to health guidelines, including wearing masks and maintaining their distance.