Oklahoma in bottom 10 for Census response with deadline approaching

By Carmen Forman/Staff writer The Oklahoman
Carmen Forman
With a month remaining to respond to the U.S. Census, Oklahoma ranks among the Bottom 10 nationally for its response rate.

Roughly, 59% of Oklahoma households have completed the Census, making the state No. 41 for its response. Oklahoma ranks behind the national response rate of 64%.

The deadline for Census data collection is coming up fast due to the Trump administration’s decision to end data collection a month early, on Sept. 30.

The final report will be presented to the president by Dec. 31.

“I was hoping our response rate would be a little higher than it is, but if we hit that 4.1 million number, then it’s definitely all going to be worth it,” said State Department of Commerce Director Brent Kisling.

Kisling, who has high hopes of Oklahoma adding back a sixth congressional seat due to stellar Census participation, isn’t prepared to settle for the Bottom 10.

Oklahoma’s Legislature will use the final Census data to draw the state's legislative and congressional districts next year. Census data also determines the number of congressional seats per state.

Oklahoma lost a congressional seat in the 2000 Census. Population in the state was about 3.75 million in the 2010 Census, but Kisling hopes this year’s count will break 4 million residents.

If 4.1 million people are counted, he thinks Oklahoma could be a serious contender to add a congressional seat. Roughly, 1.1 million Oklahomans have already responded to the Census.

Conducted every decade, the Census is used to determine billions in federal funding that comes to Oklahoma every year through hundreds of programs. The Census ties into funding for education, health care, transportation and more.

For every person that doesn’t complete the Census, Oklahoma loses roughly $1,700 annually for the next decade. That can add up to billions in lost revenue.

The federal COVID-19 relief dollars Oklahoma received through the CARES Act was based on the 2010 Census numbers, which really makes the importance of an accurate count hit home right now, Kisling said.

As for the moved-up deadline, Kisling said he isn’t worried about it affecting the count because the deadlines have already shifted so much this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Typically, door-knocking begins in the spring and wraps up by July 31.

In July, Oklahoma County was one of the first locations nationally to see Census enumerators out in the field. The workers who visit homes that have not yet responded to the brief and confidential Census questionnaire have been advised on proper COVID-19 protocols, including wearing a mask and keeping their distance.

Typically, some Census response is done at community events, like festivals and parades, Kisling said. But many events were canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Instead, Census Bureau workers have set up a mobile questionnaire assistance booth at various locations, such as gas stations, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Lawton rodeo to help people complete the Census.

Joe Dorman, CEO of the Institute for Child Advocacy, said every state will be impacted by the earlier Census deadline. The nonprofit organization is one of many Oklahoma groups working to help raise awareness of the Census and help get Oklahomans counted.

The institute planned on launching a Halloween-theme marketing campaign to encourage Census participation. Now, the campaign has been moved up and the spooky theme dropped, said Dorman, a former state lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate.

But Dorman praised the Census Bureau and Oklahoma's Department of Commerce, which has conducted Census efforts without additional funding from the Legislature. The Department has used less than $500,000 in discretionary funds to aid its Census efforts.

"The Census Bureau has been tremendous this year as far as the changes allowing response over the phone and response via the internet," Dorman said.

Roughly, 44% of the Oklahomans that responded did so online, a new feature offered this year.

Canadian and Cleveland counties currently have the best response rates. Marshall County, in southern Oklahoma, has the worst.

Because Oklahoma and Tulsa counties are both in the Top 10 for their response rates, much of the work in the next month will be increasing the number of responses in rural areas, Kisling said.

"Top 10 is possible," Dorman said. "It’s just letting people know how important this is by sharing the facts and alleviating fears."