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North Dakota begins census campaign aimed at accurate count

May 7, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota has started an effort aimed at getting an accurate tally in next year’s census, a moved spurred by criticism that the federal government severely undercounted the population in 2010 due to a rise in oil workers.

Gov. Doug Burgum signed an order Tuesday creating the Complete Count Task Force. The Legislature this year approved $1 million to spend on the effort, which will include looking at ways to better identify workers in the state’s oil patch, residents of North Dakota’s five American Indian reservations, and foreign-born residents, most of whom reside the state’s biggest city of Fargo.

The government takes a headcount every 10 years and accurate counts are crucial for states because billions of dollars in federal aid are at stake for such things as transportation projects and education. Officials estimate the cost to the state of a person not counted in the 2020 Census will be more than $19,000 in lost federal funds through the following decade.

The 2010 Census pegged North Dakota’s population at 673,000, a count many officials in the oil patch had disputed as too low. The population was pegged at a record 760,000 residents last July, the most recent date for which figures are available.

Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, who previously served as mayor in the oil patch community of Watford City, said he believed the Census Bureau’s 2010 count was off by “tens of thousands of people” as a dramatic rise in oil production brought scores of jobseekers to the state to take advantage of abundant employment opportunities.

Finding the whereabouts of all North Dakota’s burgeoning population was a chore in the oil patch, where officials reported new residents living in their vehicles, tents, grain bins, haystacks, culverts and under bridges. Sanford said the population in the state’s oil patch has “stabilized” with the addition of new housing in the region.

U.S. Census Deputy Regional Director Dennis Ray Johnson, who visited the state Capitol on Tuesday, said North Dakota, despite its relatively low population, remains “a big challenge” for an accurate headcount. But he said he believed the bureau — with the help of the state — is up to the task which “will shape North Dakota not only next year but for the next 10 years and beyond.”

Kevin Iverson, manager of the state’s census office, said North Dakota has been the fourth fastest-growing state over the past decade and has had one of the biggest percentage increases in foreign-born residents since 2010.

Iverson estimated there were more than 19,000 non-U.S. citizens living in North Dakota in 2017. He said that population often is difficult to count because of language barriers and a fear that “their information will be misused to get them in trouble.”

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