Peoria's Census Participation Plateaus During Pandemic

Jul 7, 2020

Peoria's census participation has hit a plateau as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on.

That's according to At-Large City Councilmember Sid Ruckriegel, who's leading Peoria's complete count committee. So far, about 64% of the city has self-reported census data. That's just a couple percentage points under the county and state.

But response rates are much lower in some hard-to-count neighborhoods. Response rates are closer to 45% in the North Valley, South Side, and downtown.

“One of the things that has been delayed because of the pandemic is door-to-door enumerations, and that is very important in those hard-to-count areas,” Ruckriegel said. “What we’ve done in sort of that middle period created by the pandemic is … you’ll see a lot of signs letting people know that they can do this by phone.”

The internet response rate in those census tracts also is lagging. Citywide, more than 55% have filled out the census online. Those rates are closer to 20% in the North Valley, South Side, and downtown.

Ruckriegel said that could be in part because people don't know the new online option exists, or because they have questions that need to be directed to a live person. But he said it’s also indicative of the inequity in affording or accessing reliable internet service.

“One of the important players we are partnering with is the library system, which provides internet access,” said Ruckriegel. “For many within our community, that is an important piece for them to be able to get internet access—either through the computers there or the wifi.”

Ruckriegel said the committee hopes to see higher response rates in the coming weeks, as in-person census outreach could potentially resume later this month or in early August. The self-response deadline was extended to Oct. 31.

In the meantime, he said, they’ll continue to partner with community organizations to phone bank and take other steps to inform the public.

Norris Watson, an ambassador with the Peoria Citizens Committee for Economic Opportunity, recently took over outreach efforts in some of the neighborhoods with lower response rates.

Watson said radio ads have been a big part of trying to spread the word. He said he’s also working on a campaign in the Traveler Weekly.

“What I’m hoping we can do is some still shots of a couple of the area ministers at their churches and have them do a piece on the importance of the census,” he said.

There are myriad ways census participation can help Peoria communities, Watson said, but one in particular stands out: congressional representation.

“If we don’t have proper representation, we can’t complain,” he said. “I mean, if we don’t go out and get the census together, coupled with that voting—if you’re not participating, then you’re part of that problem.”

More information on how to fill out the census can be found at 2020census.gov.

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