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Census countdown stresses importance of survey

Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy CEO Joe Dorman listens to a panel discussion in 201.  [Steve Sisney/The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy CEO Joe Dorman listens to a panel discussion in 201. [Steve Sisney/The Oklahoman]

Monday marks the one-year countdown to the 2020 U.S. Census, and a variety of Oklahoma leaders are launching a campaign to help ensure the state receives an accurate count, which is critical for government funding and mapping legislative districts.

“We want to make sure everyone is aware of just how important it is to have an accurate count because so much is riding on it,” said Joe Dorman, CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and a member of the Count Me In Oklahoma coalition that is urging participation in next year's census.

Dorman said he’s worried that some children living in low-income households will go uncounted, which can mean fewer state and federal dollars for programs that provide health care, food and other services.

“The government cannot provide assistance for children it doesn’t know exist, so it’s very important we get accurate figures for the youth population,” he said.

The U.S. Census is taken every 10 years and it is estimated that as many as 5 percent of children under the age of 5 go uncounted.

The undercount of young children is most likely to impact low-income neighborhoods and can mean fewer dollars for programs such as food stamps (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP), the National School Lunch Program, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

A variety of other federal and state funds for health care, transportation and emergency services are also based on census numbers.

Each year, the federal government distributes more than $675 billion to states and communities based on Census Bureau data.

“A lot of county funding is impacted by population counts,” said Gene Wallace, director of the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma. “If you care about the quality of your local roads and bridges, it’s your civic duty to participate in the census when their employees reach out to you.”

Monday marks the official one-year countdown until census workers begin conducting in-person interviews at households that did not respond to mail, online or telephone surveys, which will begin in early 2020.

Members of the Count Me In Oklahoma coalition plan to be at the state Capitol on Monday to promote the importance of the survey.

“Our cities and municipal governments receive state and federal dollars for a variety of programs that improve our quality of life, our health and the safety of our citizens,” said Mike Fina, executive director of the Oklahoma Municipal League. “We need every Oklahoman who receives a census survey to respond so we are not underrepresented in our communities.”

Census data is also used by many businesses looking to expand production centers, open new stores or relocate offices.

Population numbers from the census are also used to determine how many U.S. representatives each state is allotted.

Dorman said the census coalition also will be encouraging college students to complete a survey from their campus.

“Often times their parents will count them as home and that will hurt the college communities,” Dorman said. “That means places like Stillwater, Norman and other college towns are going to have an undercount in population numbers.”

Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›