The latest numbers show West Virginia is near the bottom in terms of response to the U.S. Census, and local officials say that creates a problem.
“This is your one time that you can directly tell the government that we want our money back here,” Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom said.
Many federal dollars are allocated according to population, including HeadStart, CHIPS, school meals, public transportation, Brownfield grants, housing assistance programs and Pell education grants.
Add to that roads, broadband, funds for seniors and other programs, said Preston County Commissioner Don Smith, as well as employers who look at the demographics when planning.
“One big thing is now, especially, with the coronavirus, there’s more and more focus on rural America and broadband because of all the situations where people are trying to do their education online, do tele-health online, work online, and they’re not able to do it,” Smith said.
West Virginian senators are trying to expand broadband in the state, “but if you don’t have the right count, that’s how they’re going to drive that money.”
According to the U.S. Census website, as of May 6, 45.2% of state residents had self-responded. That’s less than the national average of 57.7% and below that for Monongalia County, at 53.8%, Preston at 49.5%, Marion at 50.2% and Taylor at 55.4%.
Self-response reflects households that complete their 2020 Census questionnaire either online, by phone or by mail.
West Virginia’s response rate of 45.2% — 440,000 households — ranks it 50th among 52 in terms of response. (The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are included, along with the 50 states.) Minnesota leads the country in self-responses, at 68.1%.
Dead last is Puerto Rico at 7.8% response rate, with Alaska just above at 38.3%.
The counties with the top three response rates in West Virginia are Wood (63.9%), Pleasants (61.8%) and Jefferson (61.7%). The bottom three on the list are Summers (12.9%), Pendleton (11%) and McDowell (4%).
Mon comes in at No. 13, with a 53.8% response; Preston at No. 19 (49.5%); Taylor at No. 9 (55.4%); and Marion and Cabell are tied for 17th with 50.2%.
As for the 232 West Virginia cities in the data, topping the list is North Hills, in Wood County, with a 79.7% self-response rate. Bridgeport in Harrison County is third, at 74.2%.
Rankings for cities in Monongalia County are: No. 38, Star City, 57.9%; No. 45, Westover (tied with Charleston), 57.1%; No. 100, Morgantown, 44%; No. 184, Blacksville, 12.5%; and No. 225, Granville, 2.7%.
In Preston County the ranks are: No. 26, Kingwood, 61%; No. 70, Terra Alta, 52%; No. 88, Albright, 46.9%; No. 109, Rowlesburg, 38.5%; No. 110, Tunnelton, 38.3%; No. 111, Newburg, 38%; No. 158, Reedsville, 19%; No. 159, Masontown, 18.4%; and No. 174, Bruceton Mills, 14.5%.
There’s also what Bloom sees as the worse-case scenario — that West Virginia loses a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives because of a dip in population count.
Why is that important? It’s a numbers game, Bloom explained. “If you’re trying to get your point across, and you’re only two of 365 people, you’re not considered as vocal or as important, unfortunately, as other areas.”
But if Prestonians, for example, respond in large enough numbers, there’s the possibility the county could have two delegates elected entirely within the county, Smith said.
People need to complete the census based on where they spend six months or more of their time. For West Virginia University students, that’s Morgantown, he noted.
The form itself is generic questions and takes less than five minutes to complete, Bloom said. It can also be done online at www.census.gov.