Every 10 years, the United States Census Bureau takes a headcount of our national population. This census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and is used to determine everything from the number of congressional seats awarded to each state to the amount of federal dollars states get for roads and bridges, education, public health and other initiatives.
The 2010 Census reported that the population of the U.S. grew to 309 million, an increase of about 10 percent from the 2000 Census. That number will continue to rise, although we will not know by how much until the results of the 2020 Census are released. Oklahoma is expected to top 4 million in this next count.
Oklahoma experienced a severe undercount in 2010. The Census Bureau reported that only 75 percent of households in Oklahoma responded by mail. An in-person follow-up by Census workers helped to reach some people who do did not respond by mail, but many Oklahomans remained uncounted.
A state being undercounted on the Census has a major fiscal impact. Over $880 billion are distributed to over 300 federal programs that are dispersed to states based on Census-generated figures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A conservative estimate of dollars associated with each person counted by the Census is $1,600 annually. For Oklahoma, with our estimated population of about 4 million, that translates to $6.4 billion a year. For every person not counted, subtract $1,600. For every person we can find and accurately report, add that same amount to funding for roads, health care and other resources.
Those dollar figures illustrate why many states are investing heavily in efforts to ensure their population is accurately counted. In California, state leaders made a tremendous commitment to California Complete Count – Census 2020 (California Census Office) outreach and communication efforts by investing $187.2 million over several years toward strategies and activities that will help ensure an accurate and successful count. Colorado has invested $6 million in similar efforts; Arizona has allocated $7.5 million; and New Mexico is spending $3.5 million.
Oklahoma has not appropriated additional state dollars yet, but our agencies are doing their best with the resources they have. Our state Department of Commerce has done exceptional work to add about 85,000 previously unknown addresses to the list for the Census to contact by mail, and eventually in-person interviews if there is no response.
To assist our state effort, a network of Oklahoma nonprofits will be doing as much as possible to ensure every single Oklahoman is counted in 2020. It will be easier this year to fill out your census forms as you will now be allowed to submit information online or over the phone once verification is received that you are providing the proper information for your household. Our organizations hope this will improve our response rate and allow more resources to come to Oklahoma to provide better opportunities for improvements in our quality of life.
If you would like to sign up for this effort to assist Oklahoma nonprofits with the count next year, go to the “events” page at OICA.org to register for a free meeting on the morning of Oct. 3 at the Oklahoma State Capitol. The OICA, the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, and other organizations working in a collaborative effort will share ideas on how to work together to make sure Oklahoma is not undercounted, as it has been in the past.