Nearly 100% of Oklahomans were counted in the once-every-decade Census, which saw its data-collection period that came to an end Thursday.
The state’s 99.9% response rate was the same as the rest of the nation: All states were given the same mark in the Census Bureau’s final tally. But federal data shows Oklahoma needed more help, potentially putting the state and local communities at risk of losing out on federal funds, than most states to get there.
Only 61 percent of the state’s residents self-reported their Census results by filling out the demographic questionnaire online, over the phone or by mail. The rest required Census takers to follow up or visit the nonrespondents household in person to make sure they are counted.
Oklahoma’s response rate was tied for 10th worst in the country and lagged well behind the 66.9% national self-response rate.
Federal, state and local officials have encouraged residents to self report the information since the Census Bureau considers the self-reported data to be more accurate and less costly than the in-person visits. Experts, including a team of UCLA researchers in a recently released study, also argue that low self-response rates put states and local governments at risk of being undercounted, and in turn, risk losing out on federal funds.
Data from residents who don’t self-report can be less accurate since, as a last resort, Census workers will rely on a “proxy,” such as neighbors, family members or even a landlord, to provide information on someone who doesn’t respond on their own and can’t be reached.
In Oklahoma City, for example, officials estimate that each household that isn’t counted by the Census costs the city about $1,675 in local federal funding per person, per year, for 10 years.
The researchers also argued that the Trump administration’s request to end the Census earlier than it’s previous Oct. 31 end date, which was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, will lead to undercounts across the nation, but especially among groups that need federal aid the most.
“It is highly likely and unfortunate that the 2020 Census will be flawed with severe undercounts of people of color and low-income individuals,” said Paul Ong, co-author of the report and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, in a press release. “At this juncture, it is critically important to start developing methods to adjust the counts to develop a more accurate statistical picture of America and its people.”
In Oklahoma, reporting varied throughout the state ranging from Marshall County posting a 31.2% self-response to Canadian County recording a 72.6% rate. Several rural counties, which have some of the highest poverty rates in the state, had the lowest response rates.
Census workers will spend the coming months tabulating the data so state lawmakers across the country can begin redistricting work, which will kick off in Oklahoma and elsewhere next year.