After months of outreach in conjunction with the City of Evanston, the Census Bureau is sending census takers out to collect outstanding responses from residents in person.

The bureau’s Nonresponse Followup operation marks the final stage of completing the decennial population count.

It’s been an unusual year for the census — people were able to respond online for the first time, but the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the census’s usual national mobilization.

Evanston is doing relatively well so far — the city’s 73.2 percent self-response rate, as of Monday, ranks 384th out of 1,290 Illinois municipalities. It’s ahead of Cook County’s 63.6 percent rate and Illinois’s 68.3 percent rate.

Response within the city varies, reaching as high as 85 percent in parts of the sixth ward and as low as 59 percent in parts of the fifth, according to Census data current as of Monday.

The online option seems to have helped boost overall participation. The response in 13 of Evanston’s 19 census tracts has already exceeded levels from 2010’s entire survey.

The Census Bureau raised concerns of an undercount when, earlier this month, it announced it would end all counting efforts on Sept. 30, a month earlier than expected. Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya called the move “outrageous,” categorizing it to the Chicago Sun-Times as “a political stunt [by the Trump administration] to keep political power away from communities of color.”

In a statement, Bureau director Steven Dillingham said the agency “intends to meet a similar level of household responses as collected in prior censuses, including outreach to hard-to-count communities,” and that the move would ensure the census’s completion by its end-of-year legal deadline.

Evanston has pursued creative methods to raise awareness of the count, holding phone banks and throwing a “virtual DJ dance party” to promote it in May.

According to a 2019 Chicago Urban League report, Illinois’s population loss means it’s likely to lose a Congressional seat as a result of this year’s census, and perhaps two if there’s an undercount. The report also estimates that a one percent undercount could result in a $1.3 billion loss in the state’s federal Medicaid funding over the next decade.

“Your participation in the 2020 Census is critical to ensuring that you’re fairly represented at all levels of government, and that Evanston, Cook County, and the State of Illinois receive a fair share of federal funding to support a wide variety of projects and services,” the city’s census website says.

Evanstonians can avoid a visit by door-knockers by responding online at 2020census.gov, calling 844-330-2020 or mailing in the questionnaires they’ve received.

If census takers do visit, the Bureau says, they will practice safety measures like maintaining six-foot distancing, wearing masks and conducting interviews outside when possible. The workers will make up to six attempts to contact each household, leaving notifications on residents’ doors and following up by phone if necessary.

Jasper Davidoff, a 2018 graduate of Evanston Township High School, is news editor of The Student Life at Pomona College in Claremont, California.

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