The 2010 census: Counting all Latinos a challenge — but Illinois needs the numbers

Preparations for the 2010 census are underway, with volunteers, community groups and the Census Bureau advocating for the count. The results will determine how federal funding is distributed to communities, and will be used to redraw Congressional districts.

An interactive map on the Census Bureau website shows response rates from the 2000 census. In many Hispanic neighborhoods in Chicago, participation was low. Click on image for link to the Census Bureau website.

One of the challenges Illinois faces is to count all of its Latino population. Latinos have traditionally been hard to reach for the census, and fears of sharing information with the government run deep. But the numbers matter not only to the Hispanic community, but for the state as a whole.

Illinois is in danger of losing another of its 19 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s Latino population, however, has grown, making up for other population losses especially in the Chicago metropolitan area. They could thus help save Illinois’ seats. But that only works if everyone in the Latino community fills out the census questionnaire.

To achieve that, community groups are sending volunteers into their neighborhoods to encourage people to participate in the census. Virginia Martinez, attorney with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education fund, said many Latinos are afraid the information will be shared with immigration agents, landlords or creditors. That is incorrect: The Census Bureau is legally bound to keep information confidential.

It also doesn’t tally up numbers individually. “We don’t report that [you live] on 123 Main St.,” Lydia Ortiz of the Chicago regional census office said. “We report that 100 people live on Main Street, and that 20 percent of the people on Main Street are Hispanic.”

If they are succesful in getting everyone counted, researchers expect the results will show a population shift. Hispanics have moved from the city to the suburbs over the last 10 years, they say. That changes the landscape for community organizations and political representation. Once the districts are redrawn, will there be a Hispanic Congressional seat in Chicago’s suburbs?

Read more about the 2010 census outreach to the Latino community, and about the expected population shift.

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