This column was originally published in the Daily Ardmoreite on Sunday, October 13, 2019.
Most of us know some basic information about the Census and how it works: people are counted, the information is collected… and then the government does something with that information.
But where does that information go and who has access to it isn’t something regularly discussed In a time when many of us are concerned about privacy, but also with things like business viability, healthcare access and education, the upcoming census becomes a vital tool, but one that some may be leery of committing to.
Here are some key facts, as disseminated by our local Census Bureau partnership specialists:
• All census workers are sworn to maintain the secrecy of the information they collect.
• Not only are census workers collecting information about the number of individuals living in our communities, they are also confirming where people live, whether that is in homes designated for single family occupancy, on rural farms or in group living situations like shelters or nursing homes.
• The data they collect remains unreleased for a period of 72 years — long after many of us would be affected by any specific information gathered in April 2020.
That still leaves one question hanging out in the wind: where does the data go? Two words: Federal funding. The information gathered by the Census is vital to everyone in our community, whether they receive those federal dollars or not, because when there are not enough federal monies to keep programs open, the strain on state and private funding sources becomes greater. To put it simply, the number of hands reaching out for funding goes up, but the amount of funding available does not.
Something to consider, along with the condition of the roads on which you drive from and to work, home, school, etc. or as you pass by hospitals with closed doors, or your local public school: in 2010 it is estimated that only 69% of Carter County residents were counted. That’s a 31% loss in federal monies that we could have distributed to struggling schools or used to strengthen our infrastructure. Instead, it was left on the table.
Our county was not alone. None of Oklahoma’s counties reached 100%. Our most vulnerable citizens need us to better. Together, I think we can. I challenge each of you to join forces — whatever it takes — to reach every resident so that we can all be counted.
Additional information is available at census2020. gov/resources.
Ari James is the executive director for the Ardmore Literacy Leadership coalition. Member agencies serve area residents from youth through adulthood in areas including early childhood education, digital and financial literacy, adult basic education, high school equivalency, citizenship classes and English language education. For more information or to request a referral, visit ardmoreliteracyleadership. com or call (580) 768-2942.