2020 Census – Everybody Counts!

Together Oklahoma, the advocacy program for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, is working with volunteers and organizations to make sure Oklahoma residents are fully counted in the 2020 Census. 

Every 10 years, the United States counts the number of residents across the country during the Census. Information gathered during the Census is important to the everyday lives of all Oklahoma residents. 

During the 2010 Census, only three out of every four Oklahoma residents participated. As a result, the number of Oklahoma residents was undercounted. This potentially cost Oklahoma billions of federal funding during the past decade. 

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Why Does the Census Matter?

Census information is used to determine how federal funds are divided among the states. These federal dollars come through aid, grants, and program funding. This includes Social Security, Medicare, food assistance, housing, transportation, education, and more. Oklahoma has received more than $9.3 billion through 55 federal programs guided by census data gathered in 2010.

Estimates show that each person not counted in the census costs the state about $1,800 per year in lost federal funding. By these measures, an undercount of just 2 percent could cost the state up to $1.8 billion over a decade.

Other uses for Census data include: 

  • Officials use population information to determine how many members each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives
  • Businesses and industries use demographic information collected during the Census to make decisions on where to expand or locate
  • Policymakers use demographic information to shape laws and regulations that impact Oklahomans

How the Census Works

Census Day is April 1, 2020 and will be observed nationwide. By this date, households will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. There are three options for responding: online, by mail, or by phone.

Timeline for 2020 Census

  • March 12 – 20: Households will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone, or by mail. 
  • March 30 – April 1: The Census Bureau will count people who are experiencing homelessness over these three days. The Census Bureau counts people in shelters, at soup kitchens and mobile food vans, on the streets, and at non-sheltered, outdoor locations such as tent encampments. 
  • April 1: Census Day is observed nationwide. By this date, every home will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. Once the invitation arrives, you should respond for your home in one of three ways: online, by phone, or by mail. When you respond to the census, you’ll tell the Census Bureau where you live as of April 1, 2020.
  • April: Census takers will begin visiting college students who live on campus, people living in senior centers, and others who live among large groups of people. Census takers also begin conducting quality check interviews to help ensure an accurate count.
  • May – July: Census takers will begin visiting homes that haven’t responded to the 2020 Census to help make sure everyone is counted.

Together Oklahoma Census Strategy

Together Oklahoma, an advocacy program of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, seeks to ensure the best possible representation of Oklahomans in the 2020 Census, especially with historically hard-to-count demographic regions and groups.

Together Oklahoma and OK Policy are working to ensure the most accurate Census count possible to help ensure Oklahoma receives its fair share of federal funding for programs and services that support all Oklahomans. As such, we are working to incorporate Census education and outreach in order to increase public understanding and buy-in for Census participation through education, action, and evaluation.

Frequently Asked Questions about the 2020 Census

What can I do to help?

Together Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Policy Institute seek to collaborate with community partners to ensure that all Oklahomans are counted. Partners can help us:

  • Spread public awareness about the census
  • Build up outreach efforts and providing direct support to Communities
  • Identify community locations that can serve as Census Assistance Centers
  • Launch neighborhood canvassing with Together Oklahoma volunteers
  • Launch communication outreach including text messaging campaign
  • Provide data and mapping support to coalition partners including county level data to ensure accurate development of statewide report and reflection of 2020 Census engagement activities

What questions are asked on the Census questionnaire?

Sample questionnaires are available for viewing on the Census Bureau’s website. Click here to view a sample questionnaire for the 2020 Census.

What does a “hard to count” area mean?

During the 2010 Census, only three out of every four Oklahoma residents participated. Regions and populations with low self-response rates in past Census counts are considered “hard to count.” Hard-to-count populations include very young children, immigrants, people of color, rural residents, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals.

Communities that are not counted accurately could lose out on political representation and critical public and private resources. Those at the highest risk for miscount are people of color, as well as children under five years of age. The Census often misses people if they are:

  • hard to contact, such as people who are experiencing homelessness, move frequently, or lack a permanent address;
  • hard to locate, such as people who live in extreme rural areas, in another person’s home, or in informal housing without an address;
  • hard to survey, such as people with language barriers, limited literacy, or no internet access; or
  • hard to engage, such as people who are afraid, distrust the government, or lack the time to complete the form.

Are my Census responses confidential?

The Census Bureau is required by law to protect any personal information we collect and keep it strictly confidential. The Census Bureau can only use your answers to produce statistics. In fact, every Census Bureau employee takes an oath to protect your personal information for life. Your answers cannot be used for law enforcement purposes or to determine your personal eligibility for government benefits. Click here to learn more about the Census Bureau’s confidentiality guarantee.

Can my Census responses be used by law enforcement?

By law, your census responses cannot be used against you by any government agency or court in any way—not by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), not by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), not by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and not by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The law requires the Census Bureau to keep your information confidential and use your responses only to produce statistics.

For more information about getting involved with Together Oklahoma and OK Policy’s work with the 2020 Census, please contact Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk at jlecho-hawk@okpolicy.org.