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Editorial: Preserve your serenity. Fill our your census form.

Sunday, August 02, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by EDITORIAL BOARD

f you’re one of those people who hates it when a stranger shows up uninvited at your home, the coronavirus pandemic has had one upside: keeping you away from door-to-door salespeople, petition-gatherers and religious proselytizers. The chance of getting COVID-19 discourages such outreach, partly because it makes residents even less eager to interact with random visitors. So these days, it’s less likely than before that your serenity will be disturbed by the barking of your dog.

But if you want to keep annoying intruders off your lawn and porch, here’s some advice: Fill out your census form ASAP. Otherwise, you can expect a personal visit from someone dispatched by the federal government to find out who’s living in your home. And it may come at a cliffhanger moment during your favorite Netflix series.

The Census Bureau mailed reminder cards in July, and don’t think you can get away with tossing them. Starting Aug. 11, its workers will head out, wearing personal protective equipment, to locate the laggards. They will keep at it until the Oct. 31 census deadline. Now is your last chance to head them off.

There are other good reasons to fill out your census questionnaire. A full count of the people in Illinois and Chicago is especially important at a time when both are losing population. It’s population that determines our representation in Congress, as well as our allocation of federal dollars.

If everyone does their duty, there’s less chance of losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would reduce our influence in Congress. There’s more of a chance we’ll get back our fair share of the taxes we send to Washington — money needed for highways, Medicaid, mass transit, Great Lakes restoration, airport improvements, soil conservation, disabled veterans outreach and dozens of other purposes.

You know those scary fiscal problems the state of Illinois has? Forfeiting federal aid because of a census undercount would only make them worse.

But we are in danger of losing out, because many people aren’t submitting their census forms. As of July 30, Illinois had a response rate of 67.4%, above the national average but lower than those of Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan. The response rate was just 62.4% in Cook County and 55.4% in Chicago. Some downstate counties, including Hardin and Calhoun, are below 50%. There’s room for improvement just about everywhere. Do we really want neighboring states to get more federal largesse than they deserve, at our expense?

The Trump administration has hindered full participation with its clumsy shenanigans. First, the Commerce Department insisted on including a question about citizenship on the census forms, a ploy that seemed designed to discourage responses from noncitizens and Latinos. The U.S. Supreme Court shot that down last year, concluding that Secretary Wilbur Ross’ stated reason for the question — that it would help with enforcement of the Voting Rights Act — was fraudulent.

Then, in July, President Donald Trump ordered that people living in the country illegally not be counted for the apportionment of congressional districts. Never mind that the Constitution says, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed” (our emphasis). Never mind that without a tally of people here illegally, which does not exist, there is no way to subtract them from the population of a given area.

This appeared to be another lame gambit to deter some people from participating. But people should filter out all the political theatrics, fill out their census forms and send them in.

Chicagoans are not the only ones who should pay attention when Mayor Lori Lightfoot says: “We need everyone to step up. Five minutes of time, that’s all we need, and we can change this thing entirely around.” . Don’t make her come knock on your door.

Editorials reflect the opinion of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board.

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