Making it count

Drew Butler

Members of the Ardmore area Census Complete Count Committee gathered Thursday morning to discuss strategies to help insure as many people as possible participate in the upcoming 2020 Census. In 2010, only 72.6% of Carter County households returned their census questionnaires. It’s crucial everyone participate in the census because these figures are used to determine the number of representatives the state has in the House of Representatives along with the funding for various programs and agencies.

One key topic the committee addressed was which segments of the population are the least likely to participate in the census and what strategies can be used to reach these under-counted communities.

Mary Gossett, partnership specialist with the Census Bureau, explained which groups her agency has identified as the least likely to participate.

“If you look back at the 2016 and 2010 censuses, you will find the lowest rate of response comes from those below the poverty level,” Gossett said. “Those with lower education levels and the younger generation are also less likely to participate.”

Laura Eastes Akers, executive director of The Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma, provided some insight about why those experiencing poverty do not participate, and gave her thoughts on how to improve those numbers.

“Working at The Grace Center, we interact with individuals who are living in extreme poverty and/or experiencing homelessness,” Akers said. “Taking the census survey is the last of their priorities. They’re focused on if they are going to be able to eat or shower that day and where they can go to stay warm. Telling them to take the census is great, but it's going to take the presence of people who can sit down with them and take the time to work with them on all the questions.”

Ari James, executive director of Ardmore Literacy Leadership, said English language proficiency and other cultural differences can be another reason some do not participate.

“We work with a lot of people who lack literacy in the English language and digital literacy,” James said. “They may have some cultural differences or language differences that may make them less likely to fill out the census, and they might also need some help to make sure that everyone in their household is counted.”

Jasha Lyons Echo-Hawk, community census builder with Together Oklahoma, explained that the Census Bureau’s push for more online surveys is not convenient for everyone, and they need person to person interaction with the census takers.

“Some people don’t have internet access or they may not have access to reliable broadband or wifi, so the online surveys just don’t work for them,” Echo-Hawk said. “They need somebody to be at their door, and a lot of times that person needs to be someone who looks like them or is of their community — someone they will trust.”

James said as census time comes nearer, the group’s primary focus will be on informing people on why they need to participate and getting that information out to those who need it.

“As the leadership who has that information, I feel like the most important thing we can do is give that information to the people who have direct contact with the individuals who need the information the most,” James said. “We need to create a continuing conversation and make sure they understand.”