The leader of a local business organization says that local census numbers were low because several outlying factors stood in the way of getting people counted.
Jacksonville Regional Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Kristin Jamison says that the 2020 Census count took a back seat to COVID-19 last year: “The U.S. Census Bureau began taking responses in early March. We had been gearing up for that and placing advertising and different editorials and things like that in places so that we could get people excited about the census and answering the census as quickly as possible. March 2020 was rough, and that’s when everything literally shut down. I really feel as though we didn’t have the ‘market share,’ so to speak, in getting that message out [about the importance of the census] because everyone was worried about COVID. Our daily lives were impacted tremendously, and we just weren’t able to get folks to pay as much attention to that effort as they would have in a normal year.”
Jamison says that the problems at the Census Bureau and federal litigation also hampered the census efforts not just locally, but nationwide: “There was litigation. There was a number of things happening between the Trump Administration and the U.S. Census Bureau towards the end of the census. At one point through the process, we were told we would have until the end of October to get responses in and that was cut short, and even the second week in September it ended abruptly. While we thought maybe we had some more time to get the word out and sure up some of those responses, that really did not come to fruition.”
Jamison also feels that online census response numbers are disproportionate due to a lack of Internet access, as this was the first time census responses could be turned in online: “The reality is that not everybody has the ability to [respond online] or the device to do that. In some counties, I think if you look at the map that shows population growth; I would say that most of those places in Illinois are more urban and certainly has a population that’s maybe more connected; whereas more rural area, there maybe are not folks who are particularly comfortable answering in that way [online], and if you didn’t have the door-to-door census taker coming out to finish up those responses, which we had very little of during the pandemic, I think you were expecting to see those declines in responses.”
Jamison says hesitancy may also lie with people still mistrusting the government on what they will do with the information gathered from census responses. Morgan County saw a 7.4% population decline from 2010, losing over 2,600 people during that time frame.