While the COVID-19 pandemic dominates the news, there are other things happening in the country, including the 2020 census, which will have a lasting impact on Oklahoma.

Today is National Census Day, which is meant to boost awareness of the 2020 census. The national census happens only once every 10 years, but it provides critical data that lawmakers, business owners, teachers and many others use to provide daily services, products and support for Americans and their communities. Every year, billions of dollars in federal funding go to hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads and other resources based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Data requires participation. To that end, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt challenged each other to see which city can get the highest rate of census participation. The loser has to fly the other city’s flag at city hall. (A video from Holt is embedded above.)

As of late Tuesday, OKC was winning by a nose, with a 36.4 percent response rate. Tulsa’s response rate was sitting at 33.4 percent, according to the 2020 Census website.

OKC and Tulsa are above average for the state as a whole, which has a 32.5 percent response rate.

On the county level, Canadian County leads the state, with a 40.8 percent response rate. Cleveland County, home of the University of Oklahoma, is just behind, with a 39.3 percent response rate. Cimarron County, in the panhandle, has the lowest response rate in the state so far, with just 2.2 percent.

Forms have been mailed to all households in the United States, but they can also be submitted online. The census runs through the end of the year.

This first census was held in 1790, just after the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. It was overseen by Thomas Jefferson, who served as Secretary of State at the time.

Bipartisan support for 2020 census participation

Oklahoma’s participation rate in the 2010 Census was about 75 percent, but many hope the number will be higher this year.

“Increasing our participation rate in the census will provide a more accurate count and has the potential to increase the federal dollars for transportation, education, health care, and other important programs in Oklahoma,” Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC) said in a December press release.

Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd (D-OKC) said the census helps Oklahoma get its fair share.

“When Oklahoma taxpayers send their hard-earned dollars to Washington, they expect to receive a fair share of funding from federal programs in return, but that is not possible without an accurate census count in Oklahoma,” she said. “This is why members of the Oklahoma Senate are working together on a bipartisan effort to encourage our constituents to participate in the 2020 Census.”