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Make sure you're counted: Quad-City census response lagging
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Quad-City leaders: Make sure you’re counted

Make sure you're counted: Quad-City census response lagging

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Quad-City residents are lagging behind in responding to the 2020 census.

The average response rate is 71% in the Quad-Cities, compared with an overall response rate of nearly 82% for the 2010 census. Residents living in the United States have until Sept. 30 to respond to the 2020 census, regardless of citizenship. 

According to Census Bureau data, 72% of Scott County residents have self-responded to the census, while 70.4% of Rock Island County residents have responded.

Bettendorf has the highest response rate, with 79.6% of residents complying, while only 68% of Davenport residents have responded. Moline is leading its Illinois neighbors with 72%, East Moline has a 71% response rate and Rock Island has the lowest rate at 66%. The average number of Quad-City households filling out their census online is about 55%.

The Doris and Victor Day Foundation partnered with the Regional Development Authority and the Bi-State Regional Commission early in the spring to lead the Quad-Cities in the We Count! campaign.

Foundation Executive Director Dave Geenen, who also is Rock Island 7th Ward Alderman, said the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump administration presented challenges for the 2020 census.

"When we started this initiative two-and-a-half years ago, one of the things we weren't prepared for is how the current administration threw wrenches into the effort," Geenen said. "They started with the citizenship question and recently, COVID threw coal on the fire. Then the administration said we have to wrap this up by end of September."

President Trump announced in August the census deadline had shifted to Sept. 30, a month earlier than it originally proposed when adjusting for the coronavirus. Despite the earlier deadline, Geenen said he is satisfied with the response rate of Rock Island. 

"I'm pretty happy that some of the Rock Island city tracts are doing better than 2010," he said. "The reason for some of the low numbers is if you break down the demographics, some of them are low-income renters. But we don't know the real reasons."

The U.S. Constitution requires every person living in the United States to be counted every 10 years. 

Much is at stake.

The census determines congressional representation, as well as federal funding for the next decade. Population numbers will determine how $675 billion in funding is distributed statewide and locally for schools, roads, public works departments, hospitals, libraries, nutrition programs, Medicaid, housing assistance and many other programs. 

In 2015, Illinois received $19.7 billion in federal assistance for 16 programs. According to the Illinois Department of Human Services, an undercount by 1% would result in the state losing $19.5 million per year for the next 10 years. 

Area cities have been making a monthslong effort to encourage participation by putting the "We Count!" census logo on billboards, sanitation trucks and other city vehicles in English and Spanish to get the word out.

Paper ballots were mailed to households in mid-March. Residents were given the option to respond one of three ways: by paper form, online or by phone. Households that did not respond by April 1 are visited in person or called by census workers, who will work through September contacting non-responsive households.

Geenen said Rock Island County's response rate was above the state average.

"When we started this, we wanted to get the county numbers up, and the county is above the state average," he said. "We have four identified census tracts that are below 40%: three are in Rock Island and one in Moline, so we are using all of our resources to make a final push. The area begins with the Floreciente neighborhood and spreads through downtown Rock Island."

Geenen said census "mobile question assistance" workers currently were stationed outside the Rock Island County courthouse, the county office building, Rock Island City Hall and at area Hy-Vee and Dollar stores with iPads, ready to help people fill out their census forms. 

"Just today they caught 10 people," he said. "When you have a census tract with 1,200 people and you catch 10 to 15 people, those numbers will go up. Our whole goal when we started this was to have a higher response rate than 2010, but with COVID, I don't think we're going to have that."

Updated population counts will be sent to the president Dec. 31. Redistricting data will be sent to all 50 states by March 31, 2021.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Idaho ranks first for the highest response rate, followed by West Virginia and Washington. Illinois is 12th with 92.8% response rate, 70.1% self-responding and 22.7% through follow-ups; and Iowa ranks 40th with 86.2% of households responding, 70.3% through self-responding and 15.9% through follow-ups — a dramatic fall from June, when Iowa was tied for fourth place for the highest response rate. 

Anyone who still needs to respond to the census can visit my2020census.gov.

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