State Census response slightly better than 2010

BY HOGAN GORE
Gaylord News
04/12/2020 01:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Oklahoma has gotten off to a good start in the nation’s first primarily digital census. Still it lags most other states. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Around 41% of households in Oklahoma have completed the nation’s first primarily digital census with one-third of surveys completed online since the count began in March. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU
OKLAHOMA CITY – Around 41% of Oklahoma households have completed the nation’s first primarily digital census with one-third of surveys completed online since the count began in March.

As good as it may appear, that puts Oklahoma towards the bottom of the state response ranking. Currently, the state is ranked 42nd in the country, one spot behind Texas and one notch ahead of New York.

Canadian and Cleveland counties have both recorded just more than a 50% response rate, the highest in Oklahoma. But only about 11% of the households in Beaver and Harper counties have completed their forms while only 6.5% of Cimarron County households have completed theirs.

Despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on efforts to promote the count, Josh McGoldrick, is encouraged.

“Our response rate, so far, looks like it’s trending a little better than in 2010,” said McGoldrick, chief of staff and general counsel for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, which is working with the U.S. Census Bureau to increase the state’s response in the 2020 Census.

“People seem to be happy with filling it out online, the only issues we’ve had, at least in Oklahoma, is we have a lot of rural areas that do not necessarily have good broadband access,” said McGoldrick. “It may be harder for them to do the online census, but obviously you can always fill out a paper copy.”

In addition to lacking internet access, the census faces issues with people not wanting the government to have their information, fear over citizenship questions, which are not included in this year’s census, and an overall lack of trust in government.

“Some people just do not trust the government, and again we try to reassure the importance of the census” because “every person that does not fill it out, the state loses roughly $1,675 in (federal) funding per year,” said McGoldrick.

Much like states missing out on money due to residents not completing the census, tribal nations also miss out on money in the form of grants if their citizens are not counted.

Native Americans were undercounted by nearly 5% nationwide in the 2010 Census.

Nearly 80 percent of the Choctaw Nation was missed due to differences in the way citizens’ tribal affiliation was recorded.

Some 159,630 respondents said they were “Choctaw,” while 24,000 others said “Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.”

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said the lower number was used to determine the money the tribe received from grants.

“What hurt our tribe in particular, was being one of three federally recognized tribes to go by Choctaw,” said Melissa Landers, senior director of citizenship services and head of the complete count committee for the Choctaw Nation. “We learned after the fact that unless our members had actually specifically written in Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, we didn’t get counted. That was obviously devastating.”

McGoldrick said he has worked with the Choctaws for the 2020 count and that the tribe has done “a tremendous job trying to get their citizens mobilized in 2020.”

“We have also been working with several other tribes including the Chickasaw and Muscogee (Creek) Nation and I know almost every tribe had a coordinated census effort,” he said.

By this point in a typical census year, census workers would have started going door to door to conduct surveys and collect information from citizens yet to turn in their responses.

However, the Census Bureau has delayed nonresponse checkups until May and has extended the online self-response deadline in light of the pandemic.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Census Bureau is extending the self-response phase by two weeks, until Aug. 14. Additionally, other phases are being extended two to four weeks, said Kirk Martin, director of performance and accountability for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.

Cities and universities across the state have pushed to make sure everyone is counted.

“The city of Oklahoma City was working with partners to do a lot of face-to-face outreach, up until COVID-19 hit,” said Kristy Yager, of the Oklahoma City public information office. “Since then we had to certainly make many changes in our plans, we’ve been putting more into advertising on the radio and in newspapers instead of outreach.”

McGoldrick said the state’s efforts to promote the census has also been hindered by social distancing requirements that have caused some places such as libraries where citizens used to obtain information about the census.

But, he said, it is necessary to keep the future in mind as data from the census will be used for the next 10 years.

“I just encourage everyone to take some time to make sure to fill out the census because times like now when we’re talking about who has medical supplies and things of that nature, a lot of those decisions are based on the census,” said McGoldrick. “Times like now really highlight how important it is to make sure we’re counted so people know we’re here and if there’s need for federal resources we can have an accurate count.”

Response rates are obtainable at https://2020census.gov/en/response-rates.html.

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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