Spreading the news about the census
Did you know this is a census year? If not, then you haven’t been paying attention.
State officials are doing all they can to encourage Oklahomans to take part in the census, which has been conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau every 10 years since 1790. The census is “the linchpin of the federal statistical system,” as the U.S. Supreme Court put it, a tool to collect “data on the characteristics of individuals, households, and housing units throughout the country.”
Among other things, the census determines states’ representation in Congress. In 2000, Oklahoma’s slower population growth compared with other states during the previous decade cost it one of its six U.S. House seats. That shouldn’t be an issue this time around — recent census estimates showed Oklahoma’s population continuing to grow, and approaching 4 million.
On the other hand, the census is expected to reveal a sizeable enough loss of residents in California to cost that state a congressional seat for the first time in its history.
Oklahoma policymakers also point to the state’s coffers when encouraging residents to take part in the census. In a recent op-ed, Senate leaders Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, and Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, noted that census data “drives the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds every year for things like transportation, education and health care programs, and much more.”
Treat and Floyd wrote that every person not counted in the census costs the state roughly $1,800 per year in lost federal funding for 10 years. “An undercount of just 2% could cost the state up to $1.8 billion over a decade,” they wrote.
Oklahoma had a participation rate of 75.5% in 2010, which Brent Kisling, head of the state Commerce Department, says was the second-lowest in the country. That was due, he said in an op-ed to Oklahoma newspapers, to the fact Oklahoma “didn’t spend a lot of time or effort focused on it. … We just let the day come and go ten years ago. We cannot allow that to happen again.”
Kisling, chairman of the state’s Complete Count Committee, laid out several reasons to complete the census. They included the potential federal funding that can be lost and the census’s impact on federal representation. He also said companies interested in expanding or locating in Oklahoma use census data “when deciding if a community can sustain their operations and provide the workforce they need. And workforce is the number one issue in business growth decisions today.”
Kisling urged residents to complete the mailed post card they’ll receive in March with nine questions about their household. A website, www.okletscount.org, includes additional information.
Treat and Floyd noted that residents also can respond via the internet, by phone or in person at the Census Bureau. “A lot is at stake,” they said.
It’s a worthwhile push — the census is important, and Oklahomans should take it seriously.