The U.S. Census, a once in a decade opportunity for residents to stand up and be counted, is underway. City, county and state leaders are focused on getting as many people counted as possible because the results determine not just how much federal money your community receives for things like schools and roads, but the types of grant programs you qualify for and the amounts.
It also affects your political districting at the county, state and federal level, and determines how many representatives and therefor, votes, your state has in Congress.
Oklahoma once had eight congressional seats, but lost the 7th and 8th Districts after the 1950 census, in which Oklahoma lost more than 100,000 in population overall and almost half of the state’s residents were counted in urban areas instead of rural areas for the first time since statehood.
The state lost another seat to redistricting after the 2000 census.
Congressman Frank Lucas now represents the 3rd Congressional District, an enormous territory that covers almost the entirety of the sparsely-populated western half of the state, extending east to Stillwater.
So getting a complete census count makes a difference.
The self-response period when people were urged to mail in their census forms or enter responses online started March 12, in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown.
Census takers would have normally completed the process by going door to door until June 5 to get responses from people who didn’t return their forms.
But the pandemic has slowed the process this year. In-person enumeration didn’t begin until July 1 and is scheduled to continue through Sept. 3.
Temporary jobs with the U.S. Census bureau are still available. People can find more information and apply at 2020census.gov/en/jobs.
People are required by law to answer all or part of the census and refusal to do so or giving false answers carries a fine of up to $500.
According to the American Bar Association, a possible prison sentence for non-compliance was eliminated in 1976.
If you haven’t responded to the census yet, you can still do so by mailing in the forms you received earlier this year.
You can also reply by going to my2020census.gov, even if you didn’t receive a form or have lost it.
Stillwater’s city leaders have been encouraging residents, including the Oklahoma State University students who live here nine months out of the year, to ensure they are counted as living in Stillwater.
OSU will be reporting the numbers of students who would have been living on campus in the spring if student housing hadn’t been closed due to COVID-19.
Stillwater’s community leaders have been pushing to get the city’s official population to at least 50,000 since the 2010 census.
Meeting that milestone would make Stillwater the principal city of its own metropolitan statistical area, a designation that would impact how federal funding for various programs is awarded.
In general, a larger population also puts Stillwater and the surrounding area on the map for consideration by different types of businesses.
But response rates are lagging so far.
Payne County’s overall current 57.6% self-response rate is a little better than the 57.2% statewide average, but not close to the final 2010 response rate of 64.5%.
The Census Bureau reports that 47.8% of Payne County’s self-responses were submitted online.
At the community level, Stillwater matches the state average with a 57.2% self-response rate, 51.3% of which was submitted online. Stillwater’s final response rate in 2010 was 67.6%.
Perkins is leading the pack for all communities in the county with a self-response rate of 64.8%. Cushing is close behind Stillwater at 53% but Yale, Glencoe and Ripley are trailing at 45.9%, 44% and 40.6%, respectively.
Other area towns: