Suburbs look to recoup funding after Illinois census undercount

  • Naperville's mayor said the city believes its 2020 population count, up 5.4% in 10 years, is accurate because it ensured its people were counted.

      Naperville's mayor said the city believes its 2020 population count, up 5.4% in 10 years, is accurate because it ensured its people were counted. Robert Sanchez | Staff Photographer

  • A crowd exits a Metra train at Elgin's National Street station. The city gained population, according to the 2020 census, but that count leaves out many residents, officials said.

      A crowd exits a Metra train at Elgin's National Street station. The city gained population, according to the 2020 census, but that count leaves out many residents, officials said. John Starks | Staff Photographer

Updated 6/28/2022 1:32 PM

Within weeks, distress about an Illinois exodus has been replaced by angst over fallout from the state's unexpected 2% population gain.

The surprise surge after the U.S. Census Bureau corrected its 2020 numbers has prompted Democratic lawmakers to lobby the government to fix any funding shortfalls.


It's also caused some dismay in suburbs already dubious about count accuracy.

A Daily Herald survey of 20 municipalities, including Chicago, showed 13 grew and seven lost population between 2010 and 2020, according to census data.

The highest loss was in Aurora, where the population decreased by 17,357, or 8.8%, over the decade to 180,542 as of 2020.

Other suburbs where population declined were Geneva and Palatine by less than 1%, Algonquin by 1.2%, Hanover Park by 1.3%, Addison by 3.4% and West Chicago by 5.4%.

Aurora leaders including Mayor Richard Irvin, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, were skeptical of initial results and will seek a special census in 2023.

Census data determines how about $1.5 trillion in federal money is distributed to states over the next decade.

"The city of Aurora has long believed the reflection in our 2020 census count was due to an undercount in the official process and not because of nearly tens of thousands of residents leaving Aurora over the last decade," spokesman Clayton Muhammad said.

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"We remain hopeful that things can be rectified through the official process, especially with the most recent news of this issue being statewide."

The Census Bureau regularly conducts a post-enumeration survey of states but doesn't drill down to individual towns.

Municipalities where population increased include Glenview at 9%, Elgin at 6.1%, Naperville at 5.4%, Des Plaines at 4%, Barrington at 3.8%, Arlington Heights at 3.4%, Lombard at 3%, Wheaton at 2%, Grayslake at 1.4%, Libertyville at 1.3%, Hoffman Estates at 1.2%, and St. Charles with less than 1%.

"I am confident Naperville's count is accurate and we are pleased to be receiving our appropriate share of state and federal funds based on our accurate population count," Mayor Steve Chirico said.

"I formed a complete count committee well ahead of the actual census so we could get organized and be prepared. As a result, you may recall, Naperville had the highest self-reporting rate in the country of all large cities."


Citizenship quagmire

Experts cited the Trump administration's efforts in 2019 to include a citizenship question in the 2020 census as one reason for deflated counts. Advocates for minorities warned the move would make noncitizens fearful of reprisals, including deportation, steer clear of the census. In June 2019, the Supreme Court blocked the question, but the controversy created misinformation and fear.

"The bottom line is, it caused confusion, and you can't have confusion when you're trying to count 300 million people," said demographer Cynthia Buckley from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Elgin's jump from 108,188 to 114,797 people, a 6,609 boost, brought mixed reactions. "We're happy that our population went up, but we still know it could have been better," Assistant City Manager Karina Nava said.

The city started prepping for the census in 2018, partnering with groups closely tied to minority and immigrant residents to encourage participation.

"We had to get creative around the pandemic and the citizenship question," Nava said, noting that Elgin is 45.7% Latino or Hispanic.

"We worked really, really hard, but we know there still is a large population of underrepresented groups that did not get counted." Some residents "had a fear of opening their doors," she said.

Hanover Park's population decreased from 37,973 people in 2010 to 37,470 in 2020 -- a dip of 503, the government reported.

That's not accurate, Mayor Rod Craig said, explaining that the village's population expanded but myriad residents evaded enumerators.

In some neighborhoods, "there's many families that are undocumented and they just don't answer the door," he said.

Now the village is stuck with an inaccurate population tally "that goes on for 10 years unless you want to do a special census, and that's another fee on the people of Hanover Park," Craig said.

This spring, numerous Republican candidates for governor castigated Gov. J.B. Pritzker for an Illinois diaspora. Those criticisms died down after the update was announced May 19.

Now the census buzz is focused on the potential millions the state could lose by the undercount.

Illinois' two senators and 13 of its congressmen, all Democrats, wrote Census Director Robert Santos May 25 asking him to commit to ensure the state gets its "full and fair share of federal funding."

"Illinoisans rely on roughly 100 programs that use this data to allocate funding, particularly for health care, nutrition assistance and education programs, among others," the contingent wrote.

However, U of I's Buckley, a sociology professor, sees the glass as half full.

"We had almost two-thirds of Illinoisans fill out census forms, which is terrific," she said.

"It doesn't mean we have anywhere near the growth they're finding in Texas or Florida, but it does mean that cataclysmic 'everyone's heading out of Illinois' really was misinformation.

"Is the Midwest as a whole topping the charts in terms of population growth? No, we're not, but we have a solid population structure. If there's a concern, everyone better get to work and make it a place everyone wants to move to."

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