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McLean County Shows Strong Participation In Census

Census sign along Constitution Trail
Eric Stock
The McLean County Complete Count Committee has placed yard signs throughout Bloomington-Normal to encourage census participation.

McLean County exceeds state and national averages in self-reporting to the U.S. Census based on a current snapshot of the 2020 headcount.
According to census data, nearly 69% of McLean County households have reported to the census as of June 8. The Illinois self-reporting rate stands at 65.8% and the national average is 60.7%

Holly Ambuehl with Illinois Partners for Human Service said McLean County's Complete Count Committee has actively promoted the censusand that likely has helped. The committee is made up of 24 officials from local governments, schools and human service organizations in McLean County.

Ambuehl said those partners have been active on social media and have tried to take advantage of the shelter-in-place orders to capture people’s attention. She said the pandemic may have made it easier for some to use the new online option, especially those who are working from home.

“The areas of higher income in our county, generally speaking, have better response rates which could support the idea that in those cases people have better access to the internet, better capacity of time to sit down and do the form,” Ambuehl said.

Now that businesses have started to reopen, the committee has started placing yard signs near high-traffic areas and at non-profit organizations to remind people of the decennial population count.

The pandemic has delayed census takers going door-to-door to follow up with households that haven’t responded yet. Ambuehl said the census has pushed that back until at least mid-August, when college students could start coming back to campus.

College populations are among the hard-to-count and how those numbers are tabulated has skewed reporting results in Normal. The town’s reporting rate is 62.2%, while Bloomington’s stands at 69.9%

Harriett Steinbach, who oversees census outreach at Illinois State University, said a new rule allowing colleges with on-campus housing to submit the data collectively for the students has made reporting much easier, especially during the pandemic when most students had left campus. But that part of the student population hasn’t been factored into the data, which has lowered Normal’s self-reporting rate.

“I’m disappointed that the ISU census tract is the lowest in the county, but I would argue that particular tract is not quite accurate,” Steinbach said.

McLean County’s response rate ranks no. 31 out of Illinois’ 102 counties and several tracts are already ahead of 2010 rates, according to Alyssa Cooper, community planner with the McLean County Regional Planning Commission.

Hudson’s self-reporting rate of 86.2% ranks as the third-highest among municipalities in Illinois, while two tracts on Bloomington’s east side rank first and third in participation rates in the state.


Ambuel said mistrust remains one of the major barriers in trying to get a complete population count. She said the recent racial justice protests show the work census takers must do to build trust among hard-to-count populations. She said race is just one of many factors.

“Groups that feel like they’ve been exploited or experienced violence at the hands of any type of government entity are more likely to disengage, not just from the census but anything they perceive as a potential threat,” she said.

Ambuel said the census has historically undercounted minority populations as the ways in which they can identify themselves are limited.

“The census has a history that could be shown to be somewhat racist over time where the categories that are on the form that people can select to identify their race and their ethnicity have varied over time,” Ambuehl said.

The 2020 census has no transgender option, she noted. There's also no Middle-Eastern category. Only Asian is listed.

The census is used to determine how governments allocate funding and establishes representation. Fewer residents means less money and less presentation. Advocates say each person not counted can cost a city approximately $1,700 per year in funding.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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