Fill out the census or lose

Stephanie Gomes

By now, people should have returned that questionnaire, which comes along once every 10 years: the United States Census form. And while it is easy to toss it aside in that heap of mail, officials are urging residents to return them.

In fact, for every person not counted in 2010, Illinois stands to lose about $12,000 over the next decade, according to the U.S. Census Web Site.

“The gist of it is that much of our state and federal funding is based upon population,” said Ty Livingston, East Peoria director of planning and community development. “So the better the count, the more funding we get. And from an economic development standpoint, the better the demographic figures you have, the better you can represent your community to potential developers. Whether it’s a retailer or a business looking to come here, that information is pretty critical.”

The city of East Peoria has a census committee that has worked to get information out in the community about the 2010 census. Their goal is “local outreach” and making certain different populations in the community are represented, according to

Diane Lauterbach, executive director of the housing authority, and Debra Bloomfield, community activist.

Both women are key players of the committee, along with Livingston and Rick Swan, executive director of the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce. Over the past few months, the group has worked to provide information to churches, businesses and schools, along with various sectors in the community.

“We work together to educate people of the importance,” said Lauterbach.

East Peoria residents started receiving their forms in the mail last Monday. And April 1 is the national census day, the date when forms are due.

After that day, the non-response follow up will begin May 1 through July 10, according to Bloomfield. During that time, census workers will visit homes in person that did not return a form.

Historically, East Peoria has a high return rate, according to city officials.

“We’re fortunate, compared to other communities, that we have a fairly good response rate. I think most of our census tracts were in the upper 80 percent return rate,” Livingston said.

Livingston added that some areas in the country have a low return rate and are targeted as “hot tracts” — an area that has a less than 50-percent return rate during the 2000 census. The national average is 72 percent, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Web site.

“We do not have any of those here in East Peoria,” Bloomfield said.

However, surrounding areas, such as neighborhoods along Peoria’s riverfront were labeled a “hot tract.” In response, Bloomfield said she met with Peoria’s census committee to share ideas on how to increase the response rate in those areas.

“East Peoria shared some of the creative ideas with them,” said Bloomfield, who added she showed them flyers and brochures. “We’re trying to share our ideas because the census counts for everybody, so why keep that a secret?”

While the 2000 census count was about 22,800 in East Peoria, a special census took place in the city in 2006, when the number was 23,140. The goal was to look at new areas of growth and development.

“It was a partial count. We picked out the growth pockets and targeted those,” said Lauterbach, an organizer of the special census. “Then you make a special application. It costs a lot of money, but you’re hoping that it has many gains for the community.”

Livingston said census numbers have remained “relatively stable” throughout the past few years.

“It seemed to escalate until 1980 and then things kind of flat-lined,” he said, adding that the trend was consistent in surrounding areas.

If residents have yet to receive a census, there are areas in the city where they can go and pick up a form, which are called “Be Counted” centers.

They include the Splashdown office at EastSide Centre, the Fondulac District Library and City Hall.

While it may seem difficult to undestand why people avoid turning in their form, Swan said some people might be fearful of providing private information on a form; however, he stressed that forms are very confidential.

“I still think people have a fear of putting their phone number on something, which this requires,” Swan said. “With all the fraud out there, there will be areas (on the forms) that people are going to ignore.”

Although the group said the goal is to reach as close to a 100-percent response as possible, Swan said, “I think if we got about the 90 percentile, we’d be very successful.”

Added Livington, “While it means more money for particular aspects, it also means elected officials can hold the line on other revenue sources. If we can increase these funding mechanisms, we hope to keep our resources in check.”

For more information about the 2010 U.S. census, call 630-288-9200, or visit www.2010census.gov.