Committee members work to dispel myths and explain benefits
by Jennifer Pallay
LANSING, Ill. (January 1, 2020) – Like many Lansing residents, Lansing Hispanics may be unfamiliar with the census process and unclear on why census data are important. In addition, Hispanics may deal with language barriers and suspicions about citizenship questions.
Members of Lansing’s Complete Count Committee—including Miguel Gutierrez, Martha Vargas, and Veronica Reyes—are working on ways to address these fears and communicate correct information. Three important facts they want to stress are:
- Census information will be available in dozens of languages, including Spanish.
- There will be no citizenship questions asked.
- Census data is not shared with immigration institutions.
Adding a citizenship question to the census made national news headlines several months ago, but the Supreme Court voted to block the addition of such a question. Gutierrez said that news has not reached many in the community.
“They fear what the data will be used for with so many news stories about deportation,” Reyes said.
“I would tell people to not be afraid,” Gutierrez said. “There isn’t anything to lose. There is only to gain.”
In addition, residents may be accustomed to corruption in Latin American countries and not understand the importance of having accurate data gathered during the census, said Gutierrez. “They don’t see a benefit to them. I think we need to get the information out about how this will help them and help all of us.”
The benefits of data
Vargas said completing the census in Mexico does not have the same significance it does in the United States. In the US, the federal government uses census results to determine how billions of dollars in funding flow into states and communities each year. If people in Illinois choose not to complete the census, the government will believe our population is lower, so they will designate fewer funds to our state.
In addition, large businesses use census data to make decisions about where they will open new stores. If a village like Lansing shows growth, businesses are more likely to come here. And specific population data—such as age, income, ethnicity—can impact the types of businesses that choose to open and close.
Hispanic business owners may not realize that they too have access to census data and it can help them, Reyes said.
“Hispanics go more by visual data than numbers,” she said. For example, if a Hispanic resident is considering opening a business, he or she will look around the neighborhood for prospective customers rather than looking at census data.
The demographic information compiled through the 2020 Census includes age and gender information. This is important when hospitals, for example, are determining whether to add more maternity wards or geriatricians.
Census data can help Lansing plan more 55+ housing or single family homes. And, relatedly, data can help Lan-Oak Park District make decisions about which of Lansing’s neighborhood parks need playground equipment and which need walking paths or wheelchair-accessible picnic areas.
Helping churches help others
Lansing churches can use census data to ensure their programs are meeting actual needs, or to plan new programs, or to find volunteers. Census data might show, for example, a significant population of senior citizens who live alone, or an increase in young families, or an increase in households with two incomes—indicating a potential need for after-school programs.
Adding bilingual staff
Census data affects schools too. “Schools I believe are one of the most important services offered to us,” Gutierrez said. “[Accurate census data] could mean more bilingual services to help parents.” While Lansing schools have made big improvements in this area the past few years, assistance is still needed.
If the census accurately records the amount of Spanish-speakers in Lansing, it could mean more bilingual workers in the emergency fields in the village such as 911 dispatchers, police officers and EMTs, Reyes said.
Lansing residents have the opportunity to participate in the 2020 United States Census starting in late March 2020. The Complete Count Committee is discussing ideas about having a bilingual Census Fiesta for Hispanics and others who might prefer to fill out the form in the company of friends and neighbors. The Lansing Public Library will have staff and computers available for helping people complete the 2020 Census online.