The 2020 Census has been completed, but population numbers that determine the amount of government grants and reimbursements to benefit Cowley County won’t be known until sometime next year.
The official submission deadline was 4:59 a.m. Friday. Arkansas City Public Information Officer Andrew Lawson said that the Census Bureau has reported that 99.9 percent of the households in Kansas had been accounted for, but the official count won’t be known for several months.
The 2010 Census put Cowley County’s population at 36,311. Ark City was 12,415 and Winfield was 12,301. Population estimates for July last year showed Winfield at 11,943, Ark City at 11,669 and Cowley County at 34,908.
Census advocates who had been planning on two more weeks to encourage people to answer the census found themselves scrambling after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that the Trump administration could end the nation’s head count this week.
Advocates are particularly worried that minorities, and people in rural and tribal areas, are going to be missed due to the rushed ending of the count, resulting in less federal funding for those communities and perhaps fewer congressional seats and electoral votes for states that have large minority populations.
Lawson said the census bureau now would go through a process known as post enumeration reconciliation to clean up data by finding and removing double entries.
“We’ve heard stories about enumerators having to verify people through neighbors or landlords,” he said “That is never as accurate as talking to the people directly.”
That reconciliation process normally takes six months to complete, he said, but the bureau is being required to have it wrapped up by the end of the year.
“That’s a process you hope they would put a lot of time and effort into,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic had caused a lot of confusion and frustration, Lawson said. The local counting team had been working since May of last year to reach out to the Hispanic community, but then the pandemic hit.
“You would think that common sense would dictate that you would extend out the period as needed for all of the time that we were locked down,” he said. “It was frustrating because originally they said we needed until Halloween to do a good enumeration and then tried to back that off.”
Lawson said the problems caused by the pandemic were unfortunate, but he thought the local workers had done a good job. The local count committee did everything possible to increase awareness, and the school district also was had very helpful in getting the word out.
In Winfield, City Manager Taggart Wall said he felt very positive about the results. Census workers received a lot of help from Southwestern College, the senior living community and the institutional community.
“Having the veterans home here, as well as the prison, those folks count in our population so we had to have cooperation from everybody,” he said.
Citywide, Wall said, the response had been good. They would have liked more self-responses, but he was pleased with the results given the circumstances.
Wall said that the enumerators did not report any problem areas. He said he had asked census officials to identify any areas of town where there had been significant loss or lack of response.
“We actually had no areas of town that were identified as areas we needed to target,” he said.
Anita Judd-Jenkins, chairperson for the Complete Count Committee in Ark City, said most of the city was counted, but the response in the southeast and southwest quadrants was weak.
She said those households were perhaps less attentive to local media and were part of a more diversified demographic.
“It has been a challenge, but it is hopeful that we will have reached that 12,000 mark for Ark City,” she said. “That will give us a better opportunity for grant money during the next 10 years.”
Judd-Jenkins has warned that an undercount could cost the area dearly. She has said the area was undercounted in the 2010 census, which led to Ark City and Parkerfield missing out on more than $33 million in the past 10 years in grants and programs ranging from medical assistance programs to housing and education.
Lawson said that those areas of the city Judd-Jenkins mentioned had the lowest self-response of any area in the county. He said he looked at the numbers a few weeks back and the self-response numbers were 10 percent lower than the 2010 census, even though there were more ways to submit the information this year.
“We don’t know if that is just unwillingness to cooperate,” he said. “Sometimes it can be because there are houses vacant that weren’t vacant 10 years ago.”
Lawson said that he thinks overall there will be a fairly accurate count. He said as long as it doesn’t show a loss of population, he’ll be happy.
“Our hope is that the population will stay over 12,000, but we won’t know that until at least next summer,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.