It started with a knock on my door. A Census worker asked me to complete our questionnaire even though we had already submitted ours. I had been an enumerator myself, so I gladly cooperated. When I did the Census in Forest Park in 2000 and in Cicero in 2010, most people I approached claimed they had already submitted it.
After finishing my questionnaire, I told the enumerator there are two vacant apartments on our property that had been occupied on April 1, 2020. I offered to put her in contact with our landlord. When I was an enumerator, I relied on landlords, management companies and neighbors to give me information on former residents. Now I feared an undercount of four people on our property alone.
An undercount will cost us. In 2010, we had a 74 percent response rate and lost over $7 million in funding for education, infrastructure and other community needs. Our response rate this year is 68.3 percent with one month to go before the Census ends. Why is Forest Park falling short? “We have a hard-to-count community,” Mayor Rory Hoskins admitted.
We have high-rise apartment buildings, where it’s difficult for enumerators to connect with residents. I know a condo board president who refused a Census worker access to her building. Getting cooperation from condo owners and management offices is crucial for getting a complete count.
Another factor in Forest Park is our transient population. Some residents are staying with family and friends and don’t want to disclose their presence. There is also an increasing number of residents who are distrustful of the government, or fear contracting the virus. Census workers are finding it difficult to get people to open their doors, let alone fill out forms.
Fear of spreading the disease is also the reason why Mayor Hoskins is not proposing a Census Day, like other communities. He doesn’t want a gathering that could become a super-spreader. During a normal summer we would have held a Census Day at The Park. We would have also had a Census booth at events like the 4th of July.
Instead we’re spreading the word by placing signs all over town. This includes an electronic sign at 16th & Harlem that displays appeals in Spanish, English and Tagalog. It’s been difficult, though, to make personal appeals to residents. Fortunately, we have the Forest Park Census Committee canvassing residents to stress the importance of complying with the Census.
Besides this in-person approach, the village is making it as easy as possible to complete questionnaires remotely. The new village website features a direct link to the Census Bureau. Our Census coordinator, Tanzla Davis-Rodriguez also accesses the bureau to identify sections of the village where questionnaires haven’t been completed. So far, the south end of the village has had the lowest response.
The Census Bureau provided the village with a tablet and laptop to assist people who don’t have access to a computer. Residents can also call the mayor’s office, at 708-615-6203, for assistance with filling out their questionnaire. If they come to village hall for help, they can walk out with a gift bag containing Census goodies.
Mayor Hoskins is passionate about the Census. We stand to lose $1,500 for every uncounted resident. Substantial money for schools, street repairs and other community needs will be lost. More volunteers are needed to contact residents. Mayor Hoskins has scheduled a meeting for volunteers, on Aug. 29 at 1 p.m. in the village parking lot.
I will be there because I know a successful Census starts with a knock on the door.
John Rice, who grew up in Oak Park, writes a column for our sister publication, the Forest Park Review.