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Oklahoma State University

Census deadline fast approaching

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Updated town population signs are a rare sight anymore in rural Oklahoma. New head counts across the state are now being tallied for the U.S. Census. (Photo by Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services)

Spanish Translation

The opportunity for Oklahomans to be counted in the U.S. Census is only weeks away, and officials are concerned about participation.

“If Oklahoma residents don’t self-report, no one will be looking for them after September,” said Larry Sanders, Oklahoma State University Extension agricultural policy specialist. “This is too important to put off any longer; there’s too much riding on the process.”

The decennial head count of every person living in the country is required by the U.S. Constitution, used for apportioning House of Representative seats shares of tax revenue distributed for local uses. Census numbers will be used for such mathematical formulas in more than 55 federal programs and as many state programs.

For example, rural Oklahoma districts received more than $7 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve water infrastructure last year, Sanders said.  

More than $675 billion in federal funding is affected by Census data, so it is important that anyone served by schools, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure and services be counted. Josh McGoldrick, general counsel and chief of staff at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, said the cost to Oklahomans is about $1,675 annually for each missed survey, compounded over 10 years.

So avoiding the Census only serves to penalize that person’s community in the long run. There is no positive side to lower numbers.

If all Oklahomans are accounted for, the state should have a total population of slightly more than 4 million in the next tally. Estimates so far suggest that the current Census is lagging the 2010 count. There is no time left to compensate.

Federal representatives initially said they expected the 2020 U.S. Census to be more than a yearlong process, delivered to the president and U.S. Congress in December and passed along to states for their redistricting processes by March 31, 2021. Partly due to pandemic impacts, the landscape and schedule has changed since then.

Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham in early August said in a prepared statement that field data collection will end by Sept. 30, as will self-response options, to permit the commencement of data processing.

“People for now still have the same opportunity to self-report by going online that they’ve had since the Census began, and they can still participate by phone and by traditional mail. They can even welcome the public employee or census-taker if that person comes to their front door,” Sanders said.

Although many people distrust government and data-collection systems, Sanders stressed that Census participants are protected under the law. Survey-takers cannot ask for personal details such as document identification numbers, and no information can be shared with other government agencies or entities. The purpose of the decennial event is to collect an accurate head count and to sort those numbers into categories.

Sanders praised the efforts of nonprofit organizations trying to get the word out in rural Oklahoma, such as the Farm Bureau, American Farmers and Ranchers and OSU Extension.

MEDIA CONTACT: Brian Brus | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-6792 | BBrus@okstate.edu

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