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Daily Journal
     May 18, 2021      #33-138 KDJ
 

Officials worry of low census count 

A los funcionarios les preocupa el bajo conteo del censo

By Lee Provost
lprovost@daily-journal.com


When asked what impact a low U.S. Census count would have on the Kankakee County region, officials across the board take a deep breath, cross their fingers and worry.

“Obviously a huge impact,” said Tim Nugent, Manteno mayor and president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County.

Even if every resident was counted, Nugent believes, the population count would be less than previous counts.

“I’m afraid what people don’t understand is these numbers bring back money from the state and federal government,” he said. “A low count doesn’t impact us for a year, but for 10 years. These numbers have a decade-long effect.”

According to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau population projection, Kankakee County had a population of 109,862, which represented a 3.2 percent drop from the 2010 U.S. Census population of 113,449.

A low count — meaning perhaps 20 percent of the population here failed to respond to the census — could drag that number down and some leaders Kankakee County’s total population could drop to the 100,000 range.

Such a drop would mean the county would have lost 9 percent of its population within the span of 10 years.

A project such as that does not appear to be far-fetched as the entire state of Illinois has been losing population throughout these past 10 years.

According to census figures from the self-response portion of the count — which includes mailed forms, online and telephone responses — the rate is 70.9 percent. That percentage means 70.9 percent of the household forms or other inquiries were satisfied. In September, census takers went door-to-door to those addresses who had not responded.

The result of what is called the enumerated figure has not been factored into the response rate.

Officials can now only wait to see what final reporting figures will be.

Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler is one of those officials. He believes Kankakee County’s population will decline — as it will for all of Illinois, he believes — but doesn’t believe it will drop to the 100,000 mark.

“The problem is that those communities most in need of assistance, typically are the ones which lag behind in terms of the count,” he said.

Among the areas of concern, Wheeler said, are the City of Kankakee and village of Hopkins Park.

The self-reporting rate in Kankakee was 58.5 percent. In Hopkins Park it was 47.1 percent. Only three county municipalities could boast rates higher than 80 percent: Herscher at 84.4%, Limestone at 82.3% and Manteno at 81.4%.

Barbi Brewer-Watson, Kankakee’s economic and community development executive director, who spearheaded the census count for the city, noted state and federal funds are directly tied to the population count.

She said an undercount would impact monies the city receives for programs serving the low- to moderate-income population. She noted housing programs, initiatives for children, social service programs and mental health initiatives, just to name a few of those which would impacted.

A loss of population also translates to a loss in the number of U.S. Representatives from Illinois. Early projections are Illinois could lose two to three House representatives. Illinois currently has 18.

“I certainly have no idea how low the population could go. The state has lost population, we all know that,” she acknowledge. “But if we lose funding we will not be able to meet the needs of those that can’t leave.”

Kankakee had a 2010 U.S. Census count of 27,537. The 2019 Census projection had the city at the population level of 26,024.

If those numbers were to drop below the 25,000 threshold, Kankakee would be in danger of losing its all-important Home Rule authority. Through Home Rule, Kankakee has the ability to issue financial bonding without voter approval. That authority allowed them to raise its level of sales tax without consent from the public.

Without that ability, the city could encounter significant financial hardship.

No one knows that better than city Alderman Mike O’Brien, who is chairman of the Kankakee City Council’s Budget Committee.

“We are not alone in the challenges we have, but having Home Rule status has a huge impact on Kankakee. We have enough financial challenges as it is. To lose Home Rule would be significant.”

Like others, he’s keeping his fingers crossed.

“I really don’t know what to expect,” he said. “No matter what, I believe we are going to have an undercount. Even the best case scenario doesn’t look good.”

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