Children were the focus of a state-sponsored census education summit Wednesday at Malcolm X College on Chicago’s West Side.
More than a million children in the U.S. were undercounted in the 2010 census. Officials from the U.S. Census Bureau and the State of Illinois want to chip away at that number in next year’s headcount.
“We want to minimize that number going into 2020,” said Ellisa Johnson, the assistant regional census manager for the Chicago region of the U.S. Census Bureau. “We can undo the undercount that impacted us out of 2010.”
Wednesday’s half-day event featured speakers like Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson, census bureau representatives, and others.
Johnson said children are undercounted for a number of reasons — including living with a non-parent relative, splitting time between homes, being from a low-income family, moving, or living in a non-English speaking home.
Undercounting children in the census, Johnson said, could result in the loss of crucial resources that could help them, such as food stamps, free or reduced-price lunches and health insurance.
“Missing one child means missing out on federal funding for that child for the next 10 years,” said Carmen Ayala, the Illinois state board of education superintendent.
Ayala said teachers and schools can be the trusted voices to spread awareness of the census.
“By making the census a priority for our schools, we can reach families in every corner of the state,” Ayala said.
Wednesday’s program also included a performance by children from the Carole Robertson Center for Learning and a presentation from the U.S. Census Bureau on how to incorporate census curriculum into the classroom.
The event drew participants from across the state, including high school sophomore Dre Smith and a few of his classmates from Oregon, Illinois. He said they’re working on a project about the census.
“[We] decided to take on the census and put Oregon on the map,” Smith said.
Oregon is a small, mostly rural town in the northwestern part of the state, about 25 miles southwest of Rockford.
Smith said his class is holding events, making posters and websites, and spreading the word about the census over social media.
“[The census] brings in money for the community, helps out our community, and I just want our community to be great,” he said. “Everyone counts in our community.”
Pritzker thanked attendees for their participation in census outreach.
“The next generation of success rides on your shoulders,” Pritzker said. “My administration has your back in that effort to make our children more successful and our state more successful.”
The governor touted the $20 million in grants Illinois is doling out to nonprofits and city governments. Those funds will be used for census outreach in hard-to-count areas.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.