Federal funding is a critical source of revenue for the Upper Missouri District Health Unit, providing funds for a variety of services like immunizations, tobacco prevention, HIV testing, and more to a four-county region.
That’s one of the reasons its executive officer, Javayne Oyloe, was among the first in line to volunteer after a recent community outreach meeting for the 2020 Census in Williams County.
The meeting was organized by Lindsey Harriman, Williams County Communications and Research Analyst, who is helping lead the charge for a complete count in Williams County.
Census data will be used to determine political representation for the county, as well as to distribute funding for a variety of programs like foster care. It’s also used for a variety of other things, among them, demographics for economic development.
An accurate count is vital to all of these. But it’s also going to be a huge challenge to get an accurate count of all of Williams County’s transitory workforce in the oilfield.
Despite the fact that many of the 2-on, 2-off workforce lays its head on a pillow in Williams County for more than 50 percent of the year, many of those workers still call other states home. And thus, many of them also think — incorrectly — that they need to be counted there.
“The census doesn’t affect residency for boating licenses, hunting licenses or drivers licenses,” Harriman said. “We have people saying they don’t want to get counted here because they don’t want to give up their Minnesota driver’s license. That’s fine, because you don’t actually have to give up your Minnesota driver’s license.”
The census also keeps unrelated information strictly confidential, Harriman said. Census workers won’t be tattling to authorities about illegal immigration, zoning violations, or any other such issues. It is strictly to get an accurate count of who lives where.
“The census workers are not going to go back to the landlord and say hey, there are eight people living here,” Harriman said. “Nor are they going to say that someone is living in an industrial zone.”
Individuals worried about such things, however, can avoid direct, in-person visits altogether easily, by simply filling out the Census online.
This will be the first time in the history of the Census that people can respond online using either a computer or mobile device.
Every household in North Dakota will begin receiving invitations in March and April by mail, inviting the occupants to respond to the Census online or to fill out a paper questionnaire.
The last reminder for that will be April 27.
After that, Census workers will begin visiting residences that haven’t filled out the Census, most likely in June and July.
Counting the oilfield’s workers
“The big thing,” Harriman said, “Is awareness. If you are a business owner, help bring (census information) back to employees. Simply sharing awareness with the people you work with will help tremendously.”
Harriman said the Complete Count Committee will also be reaching out directly to companies, particularly those in the oilfield sector, to ask employers to ensure their employees understand the Census. If companies can offer incentives for correctly filling out the Census material, that will also help.
Among points Harriman hopes oilfield companies will help make clear is that even employees living in a camper and moving around should be counted here, if they spend 51 percent of their nights in Williams County.
“That worker also has to have that talk with (family back home) so that they don’t count (that individual) in the Census there,” Harriman said.
Workers whose location moves around throughout the region, say from Watford City to Williston to Stanley, would use the reference date of April 1 for the city, Harriman added.
The Census is short, and will only take a few minutes to fill out.
“It’s nine questions, so nine minutes,” Harriman said. “It could take a little longer if there are a lot of people living in a particular household.”
Stakes are high
For every person not counted, Williams County will lose an estimated $1,910 in federal funds for a variety of programs like foster care, WIC, Head Start, and many other social services.
That works out to $19,100 over a 10-year period. Every household missed, meanwhile, is $44,312 in lost federal revenue for the same period.
“If we are off by .1 percent, the state loses $15 million in federal funding,” Harriman said.
Estimates have put Williams County’s population at around 35,000. However, the county’s GIS Department has collated all the addresses for the county. Multiplying that by the average number in a residence puts the population at more like 47,500.
If 10 percent of that population figure isn’t counted, it will be $90.7 million lost in federal funding.
How about a Target?
Harriman jokingly added that the 47,500 population stat could potentially put Williams County over the threshold for a Target.
In all seriousness, Harriman acknowledged it is more complicated than just that number, but retailers do in fact use demographic information available from the Census and other sources to decide where they will locate stores.
An accurate count is thus indirectly related to a wide variety of economic development efforts in Williston and Williams County, including its chances of bucking national trends that have seen such stores disappearing from the landscape.
The statistic will also be used to draw political district lines. The result of all that will determine whether the West gets additional representation in the state legislature, thanks to its population surge.