Herald-Whig View

Everybody should stand up and be counted

Posted: Mar. 13, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Mar. 19, 2019 11:20 am

NOBODY likes to get shortchanged. Nobody likes to pay higher taxes. And nobody likes to see their voice in government reduced.

All of those unpleasant outcomes are likely if there is an undercount in Census 2020. States, cities and individuals all will lose out -- and all will pay the price -- if people opt out of the count.

Census figures determine how many U.S. House members each state has. Illinois is expected to lose one of its 18 congressional seats next year but will lose two seats if an estimated 45,000 residents are missed in the enumeration. In a state with nearly 12.9 million residents, a census count that falls just 0.35 percent short could dilute the state's federal representation.

Groups at the local, regional and state levels will spend the next year reminding everyone what's at stake.

Jeanine Stroger, chairman of the Illinois Complete Count Commission, said the state's 639 public libraries will be promoted as good places to fill out online census forms to help those who lack internet connections.

"We have a lot at risk," Stroger told Stateline.org.

Population counts also help determine the funding that flows from the federal government and states to the local level. Taxes are the source of these funds, and while nobody enjoys paying taxes, there is no victory in seeing tax dollars go elsewhere. Cash-strapped local governments may choose between cutting services or raising taxes, which tends to make matters even worse.

Rural areas are hurt by undercounts to a greater extent than urban areas.

Within Illinois, Chicago, the collar counties and a handful of larger cities will continue to benefit from high population counts. In Missouri, funds will continue to flow to St. Louis, Kansas City and, to a lesser extent, the Springfield area. Rural residents can and should make sure they complete census paperwork to capture tax dollars for the places where they live.

Area residents should make sure they return completed Census Bureau forms next spring and encourage their neighbors to do the same.

Failure to complete the questionnaires is akin to telling federal officials you want someone else to decide how the nation is governed and to send a greater share of tax revenues elsewhere.

As we said at the outset, nobody likes being shortchanged or paying higher taxes. Yet higher taxes are the most likely outcome if a city, county or the state has to make up for revenue that's lost because of a population undercount.

It is in everyone's interest to get an accurate census count.