Wednesday might be April Fools’ Day, but the 2020 Census is no joke.
Across the nation, people are responding to the decennial census, reporting who is living in their household as of April 1. And despite the chaos of mass community lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau still aims to count every man, woman and child in the country on Wednesday’s Census Day.
The results of the census will help determine how federal funding will be distributed for the next 10 years. Undercounting could significantly decrease funding for communities throughout Southwest Oklahoma.
For example, a 5 percent undercount in Comanche County could lead to a loss of more than an estimated $247 million for the county over the next decade, according to data released by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
“On average, for every person that goes uncounted, it’s $1,675 per person, per year, so when you times that by 10 years, that’s a lot of dollars going out of some of these communities. If we undercount, the impact is huge,” said Shannon Yarbrough, community and economic development planner for the Association of South Central Oklahoma Governments (ASCOG).
The organization is headquartered in Duncan and serves an eight-county region of Caddo, Comanche, Cotton, Grady, Jefferson, McClain, Stephens and Tillman counties.
Yarbrough also serves as a co-coordinator for the ASCOG’s partnership with the
2020 Census. She said funding from census numbers supports critical programs across the region like senior nutrition, housing, medical and community centers and school meals and before- and after-school programs for children.
“These federal grants affect so much of our day-to-day life and community development,” Yarbrough said.
Ironically, Yarbrough said the elderly and children ages 0 to 5 were the least counted populations in the 2010 Census.
“That affects services we provide to those demographics, and we have to wait another 10 years to correct it,” she said. “We need those numbers to keep those dollars here in our programs.”
Danielle Carpenter is a geographical information systems analyst for ASCOG and is also serving as a co-coordinator alongside Yarbrough for the 2020 Census.
Some of the organization’s plans to host events around census awareness have been thwarted amidst COVID-19 quarantine restrictions.
“We have done a lot on social media and sharing on personal pages as well,” Carpenter said. “But it’s been kind of hard because we can’t get out in the public like we wanted to.”
Carpenter said ASCOG has also handed out Census 2020 fliers at local nutrition centers and contacted all of the region’s county commissioners and town clerks and mayors to help spread the word.
“They all have been really receptive,” she said. “It helps that the State of Oklahoma has sent material we’re able to give to local cities and towns that they can distribute to their residents.”
Carpenter said she has learned quite a bit about the decennial census through the process of promoting it at ASCOG this month.
“I have to admit that when I first got the (Census 2020) form in the mail, I trashed it, I didn’t know what it was,” Carpenter said. “But now that I understand how important it is, I’ve made sure to fill my form out online and I’ve encouraged all my friends, my family to fill it out.”
Carpenter encouraged anyone with access to the internet to complete their census response at census2020.gov. For those with no internet access, call 844-330-2020 or complete the paper response that was sent to your home and return it via mail.
“With Coronavirus, it’s really helpful to have other options, because the libraries and businesses are closed,” Carpenter said.
According to Carpenter, people without access to the internet typically reside in rural communities throughout Southwest Oklahoma. These are also the communities that often have the most need for the funding allocated from census data.
“Everyone counts, so we really encourage everyone to get their response in,” Carpenter said. “Call in or fill out your form, just make sure you do it.”