COLUMN: Census important for local services

Mayor Sue Catron

Years ago (pre-internet), my grandmother spent time researching the family tree. I can still remember the excitement generated when she found some "lost" relative on an old census.

There it was, in black and white; they were still alive at that date, where they were living, how many people were in the household. Pretty important stuff when you're trying to document generations of your family history.

Ever wonder why one of the first things our founding fathers ordered was a census? Or for that matter, why governments as far back as biblical times have required a count? After all, that's what was taking place when Jesus was born. What would you do if you have resources to distribute and no knowledge of who, what and where those resources are needed? Rather than just take a wild swing at it, you might order up some data.

Trying to administer a national count during a pandemic has its own special set of challenges. There has been much more reliance on getting electronic responses and much less on personal contact. That works fine for those in our community who are comfortable online. It's a big speed bump though for those who aren't comfortable or don't have the resources available.

Looking at the current self-response rate, 57.2 percent of Tahlequah residents have found a way to be counted. That means 42.8 percent need some help and encouragement. In case you don't have a calculator handy, 42.8 percent of an estimated population of 17,000 is almost 7,300 people. That's a huge number for the handful of people hired to conduct the census in Tahlequah.

The impact to the community as the result of a significant undercount is significant. It's not just the funding that the city or county governments receive. Did you know these numbers impact Head Start and special education funding allocations? How about housing assistance for elderly residents? SNAP programs? Medicare Part B physician reimbursements? School breakfasts?

The list of federal programs that use census data to determine how to allocate funds is about five pages long, and the total is a whopping $689 billion. Yep, that's more zeros than I anticipated, too. Then factor in how the state is using the numbers to allocate funds for its programs. And consider how we locally use the data. Did you know after each census, our Charter requires an evaluation of our voting wards within the city? Those boundaries may change.

If you got a letter or a card in the mail, please take a few minutes to respond. (And it really is just a few minutes. There aren't very many questions.) If you didn't get anything in the mail and you have internet access, go to my2020census.gov. If you want or need to respond by phone, the number is 844-330-2020 for English, and 844-468-2020 for Spanish.

Please also ask your friends, neighbors, family and coworkers if they've completed the census too. It's that important. And remember, if nothing else, several generations down the road someone may be thrilled to find their own connection to you and your family on the list.

Sue Catron, former assistant vice president of Business and Finance at Northeastern State University, is mayor of Tahlequah.

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