We Have Just One More Month to Make Our Census Count
September 30 is our final deadline for the 2020 Census. I urge Oklahomans to rally hard until the end. Currently, we are in the bottom ten states for response. I hope that we will all find energy for a final push to the end of September to get as many people counted as possible.
While I continue to be disappointed in the response rate, it is not for lack of effort. More than a year before the Census began on April 1, 2020, nonprofits and the Department of Commerce were busily preparing us for the Census. Last summer, a group of Oklahoma leaders spent two days in Dallas learning about the Census and strategizing for the event. In October, the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits invited my colleague from Michigan, Donna Murray-Brown to Oklahoma to visit with nonprofits, philanthropists, city and state leaders and Census Bureau representatives to get us fired up about the work.
By the end of the calendar year, we had a strong statewide complete count committee (where I served as the vice-chair along with chair Brent Kisling, ODOC director), a nonprofit complete count committee and a count committee in ever county. That’s a lot of counting. In the spring, the Department of Commerce launched “OKLet’sCount,” on the web, on social media and on air. Nonprofits such as Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy and the Oklahoma Policy Institute were launching audacious campaigns around the state. Additionally, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, the Tribes and a number of small cities further afield would launch their own campaigns.
The Census officially opened up on March 12, but by March 17 – the onset of COVID-19 – the news cycle would forever be dominated by the Pandemic, pushing the Census to the side. This was one of a few of the many issues that have challenged our Census work in 2020.
Many populations in Oklahoma have been repeatedly undercounted in the past. This includes Black and Indigenous populations in Oklahoma. Additionally, rural populations, the Latinx population, other minorities and various neighborhoods in our urban areas have lacked participation. We knew this information going into the Census, but these systemic issues will not be erased overnight.
We also had few to no resources to underwrite this work. There was no allocation from the state. The Department of Commerce found funds to develop a robust campaign but lacked resources to purchase advertising space. Our nonprofits were not well-funded for the work, but prioritized it anyway. We know that these will be lessons learned going forward. Many of us have committed to working on the 2030 Census, and we will be starting that work long before the first postcards hit the mail.
I would especially like to thank our colleagues at the Department of Commerce led by Sec. Sean Kouplen and Director Brent Kisling. Their teams worked around the clock in the most unorthodox of circumstances to make this Census happen. I’d like to thank our nonprofits, especially OICA and OKPolicy, for their tireless efforts. And I’d like to thank you. If you filled out your Census, thank you. If you helped someone else fill it out, a double thank you.
And now I ask one more task – please ask everyone you know if they’ve filled out the Census during September. It’s so important for the federal funding to the state. As we have seen with COVID-19, it will be doubly important to ensure enough federal dollars come to Oklahoma. Thank you.