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Expert says updated Illinois census numbers show racial disparities in counting process

Cynthia Buckley is a Sociology professor at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. Buckley also works as a demographer for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Cynthia Buckley is a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Buckley also works as a demographer for the U.S. Census Bureau.

Illinois’ population was significantly undercounted in the 2020 census, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest update. One expert says it could be due to the Trump administration's anti-immigration policies.

When the census was taken in 2020, there were federal lawsuits over requiring a question about citizenship on the census form. University of Illinois professor and demographer Cynthia Buckley said she thinks this likely made migrant communities more hesitant than usual to be counted.

Buckley said this disproportionately affected Illinois’ census count in 2020.

“Illinois, both downstate in agriculture, and in Chicagoland in terms of manufacturing, attracts a large number of international migrants. That's a great thing. We're one of the portal states, and we're the only one in the Midwest,” said Buckley.

A portal state is a state such as Illinois that attracts immigrants and provides opportunities for work and living, with the potential to move towards other states in the area.

Details about Illinois’ undercount (by about 1.97%) came from the Census Bureau’s Post-Enumeration Survey, which is standard procedure to improve census data in the future.

But that survey data has its limits. Census Bureau officials are quick to point out that their report does not get into what caused these net over- and undercounts by state. The agency is not expected to release state-level over- or undercount rates by race and ethnicity or any rates for counties, cities or towns.

While federal funding based on population can be adjusted after this survey, demographic data becomes less accurate. Buckley said this leads to a loss of information about Illinois citizens.

“It is not as helpful as if everybody filled out their census form and we had a correct count to begin with, because we don't get the detailed information like racial and ethnic minorities or linguistic minorities or age,” Buckley said.

Buckley said that bipartisan support of immigration could boost census responses in 2030.

Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.