2020 Census poses problems for W. Va.

2 Oct

It’s tough to get an accurate count of West Virginia’s citizens, thanks to the rural landscape and the lack of technology here, and that could result in one less U.S. House of Representatives seat.

I found that out first-hand when I sat through a Committee of the Whole Meeting on Sept. 25 at Morgantown’s City Hall.

The 2020 Census is in the works and organizations, such as the Complete Count Committee, have introduced plans to help with accuracy and undercounting issues.

Skylar Braithwaite, member of the Complete Count Committee, explained that the state has nearly 443,000 residents who live in hard-to-count areas. They make up 25 percent of West Virginia’s population.

The rural landscape of the state, especially in the south, and the lack of broadband technology in those areas makes it difficult for surveyors to reach households, according to Braithwaite. The transient population of college towns, such as Morgantown, also poses undercounting problems.

I also spoke with Andrew Stacy, Communications Manager for the city of Morgantown, he said, “The time frame that students live in Morgantown is an issue, as the months that census workers come to count, most students have gone home for the summer. Most estimates are close to a 50 percent undercount in some areas of the city.”

For the 2010 Census, Morgantown residents were counted in the month of May. To combat this problem, “Census workers will be counting students in Feb. this year,” Braithwaite said. “Hopefully this will alleviate some of the undercounting.”

According to the census rules, The Concept of Usual Residence is used to determine where people should be counted. A typical college student lives on or near campus from August to May, spending the remaining three months at home. The rule says that these students should be counted in their college town, not hometown, because it is their usual residence.

Losing a seat in the House of Representatives is not the state’s only concern, however. The census determines how much funding will be allocated to different areas, according to Stacy.

“Almost $1,700 is lost for each uncounted West Virginia citizen,” said Braithwaite. “For every 1 percent of the population that is undercounted, we are being projected to lose about $1.9 million in federal funding. In 2010, we were under about 30 percent.”

The uses of federal funding derived from the census in West Virginia can be found here.

The federal government has made substantial cuts to the census funding. States are having to fill the gaps. The Complete Count Committee sent multiple letters to Governor Justice asking for financial assistance.

“Funding from the state would help the city of Morgantown and other municipalities to conduct engagement and outreach in the community, and allow for increased advertising about the census as many do not know when it is,” said Stacy.

Truthfully, I hadn’t heard any news on the 2020 Census until I began to attend city council meetings, which most of my peers do not. I assume that most of the student body is unaware of the upcoming census, and most importantly, unaware of the impact they have on the city.

As a college student, I’ve always wondered where I should declare my residency. I reside in Morgantown nine months out of the year, yet I feel like my “home” is with my parents in St. Augustine, Florida.

If I’m renting apartments, spending money, and sometimes earning money here, why wouldn’t I consider myself a Morgantown resident? If most other students think like me, I can see how this would cause major issues for college towns around the country.

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