City hopes federal census leads to local funding

Emilia Barrosse

Each year the federal government uses census data to allocate $435 billion in local funding, an Evanston official said. Given its $9.5 million budget deficit, the city government is working to maximize the number of Evanston residents counted in the upcoming census.

‘It is Evanston’s goal to get as many people counted as possible,’ said Craig Sklenar, city planner.

The benefits of accurate census numbers extend beyond funding for city politics.

‘If (Illinois’) population growth doesn’t match that of other states’, the number of representatives we have in Congress will diminish, and we’ll have to go through a re-districting process, effective 2012,’ Sklenar said.

As part of their initiative to increse census totals, the city is targeting Northwestern students, who often register in their hometown.

Nearly all municipalities with universities struggle to count their students in the census, said Lucile Krasnow, special assistant for community relations at NU. Krasnow met with NU staff last week to brainstorm ideas on how to provide NU students with incentives to fill out the form.

In the 2000 Census, counting NU was an easier task because students were required to complete census forms when they applied for a housing lottery number, Krasnow said.

Today, students can fill out housing forms online and no longer need to meet personally with an NU official.

‘There’s no physical place that students have to walk through to attend, so we can’t physically capture students,’ she said.

One idea proposed by faculty and staff is a campus-wide competition in which the student organization that counts the most students receives a prize.

NU is not the only hurdle the city faces in its effort to find an accurate census total.

‘Homeless people are generally more nomadic in nature,’ said Sklenar. ‘While they may sleep here at night, they may go elsewhere during the day. We need to find where people migrate and find where they stay so they don’t get double-counted.’

Census officials have begun working with local homeless agencies to get a sense of their living habits by encouraging the homeless to fill out a ten-question form over a three-day period before the census is due on April 1.

Furthermore, some residents do not trust the safety of personal information obtained by Census Bureau. The issue has become more prevalent in the past five to six years due to the Bush administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration, Sklenar said.

‘The trust issue is that illegal immigrants think they’re going to be deported,’ Sklenar said.

‘Immigrants here legally, like students at NU, may think the government is going to use the information against them, and really, our message is that we just need people to be counted.’

He added census data cannot legally reveal any information other than a population’s basic demographics.

‘We need to get the word out,’ Sklenar said. ‘This isn’t anything other than just knowing how many people live in your home.’

Once the information has been collected, however, the political challenges continue. With each new census, the Evanston City Council redraws its ward borders, and NU students face the possibility of being placed in separate districts, Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said.

During her aldermanic campaign in 2009, Grover said students should be a protected minority, which would prevent them from being divided. When the wards were redrawn several years ago, student residences were split into three wards to reduce the impact of a student voting block, she said.

‘That presumes all students vote alike and all students see all issues the same way, which you can’t assume is true,’ Grover said. ‘You can’t use political redistricting to disenfranchise them.’

[email protected]