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'COVID didn't make it any easier': Latinos undercounted in the census with Illinois losing millions

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The 2020 census showed a drop in Illinois population.

The results caused the state to lose a congressional seat. Now, the feds are revising their estimates that indicate not as many people moved away as previously thought.

CBS 2's Lauren Victory breaks down how it happened and what it means.

Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood is home to music, murals and many people in the demographic the United States Census has difficulty counting: Latinos.

Missing them means missing out on federal money for various programs in the community. It's happened before.

"Latino populations are in fact one of several historically hard to count populations," said Robert Santos, the director of the U.S. Census Bureau.

Santos recently came from Washington, D.C. to tour Pilsen alongside a Census data collector to understand a nationwide problem that's dubbed "undercounting."

"Undercounting simply happens when people don't respond to the census," Santos said.

Remember that questionnaire that arrived in everyone's mailbox two years ago? Turns out, it wasn't just Latino community members but people across Illinois who struggled to fill out.

Census officials announced Illinois is one of six states that wound up being "undercounted."

"If we sent out a form and nothing came back, we'd send a field representative to knock on their door," Santos said.

Despite musical and multiple online explanations of what to expect from a census visitor, people didn't answer their doors or weren't home or had a gate preventing access, pre-COVID.

Those were pre-COVID issues, Santos admits. "And COVID didn't make it any easier."

The pandemic cancelled in-person marketing events for the census. The city of Chicago's $2.7 million "Be Counted" campaign included a lot of signage, but people were stuck at home.

CBS 2 warned of the repercussions of undercounting before COVID in a January 2020 report. Now we know those fears materialized. Just-released census undercounts data shows the state's recorded population is off by an estimated 2%.

Back then, city leaders said the city will lose approximately $1,400 bucks for every resident who doesn't send in his or her census data. Multiply that by 10 because the Census is once a decade and that's $14,000 a person. 

That's millions of dollars Illinois could have had, but lost.

Census officials couldn't say if getting our population numbers right the first time around would've allowed us to keep our congressional seat, adding the undercount estimates are used to help the census learn what could be done better next time.


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