EDITORIAL: Take the census seriously

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J. Scott Applewhite | Associated Press

In this June 2019 photo, demonstrators gather at the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill as justices finish the term with key decisions on gerrymandering and a census case involving the Trump administration’s attempt to ask about citizenship status in the 2020 census.

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With Census Day just over a month away, the people of West Virginia must understand and acknowledge the direct influence the data recorded on April 1 will have on their state, their political power and ultimately their every-day lives for the foreseeable future.

As highlighted last year in a National Public Radio article, “The census is required by the Constitution, which has called for an ‘actual enumeration’ once a decade since 1790. The 2020 population numbers will shape how political power and federal tax dollars are shared in the U.S over the next 10 years.”

When the Census Bureau conducts a counting of the number of people living in each state, as it does for each decennial census, the collected data is used to determine how many delegates from each state will sit in the House of Representatives throughout the decade. But the real-world impacts of the census are even more expansive.

As stated on the Census Bureau’s website, “Federal funds, grants and support to states, counties and communities are based on population totals and breakdowns by sex, age, race and other factors. Your community benefits the most when the census counts everyone. When you respond to the census, you help your community get its fair share of the more than $675 billion per year in federal funds spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other vital programs.”

Currently, the people of West Virginia and their government yield a relatively miniscule portion of the nation’s collective political power, capital and influence, leaving many of the state’s residents feeling hopeless and almost entirely abandoned and ignored by mainstream politics.

If official estimations are to be used as accurate and reliable indicators, the largely poor and working-class people of the Mountain State likely will not experience a radical shift in this dynamic in 2020—at least, not because of the updated census data.

Realistically, the data experts are expecting from West Virginia for the 2020 census will mostly be used by absurdly wealthy politicians and other government officials (who never have and never will step foot in a struggling, poverty-plagued Appalachian community) to justify further slashes to the region’s already-ruinous social safety net.

In a state home to America’s unprecedented epidemic of despair and addiction, already more reliant upon federal money than any other in the nation, where over half of all students qualify for free meal programs, around 75% of hospital patients are covered by Medicare, Medicaid or PEIA and more than 25% of children live in poverty, any such cuts—as opposed to improvements—will be dire and will only lead to even more senseless death.

Due to the loss or relocation of 12,000 residents since last year, leaving the state’s population at about 1.78 million, West Virginia will almost certainly lose one of its three remaining congressional seats for the new decade. Steady declines in population combined with increases in population in other states have seen West Virginia’s allowed representatives in the House decrease from six in the 1950s to—foreseeably—just two in 2020.

As reported earlier this month by the Metro News, “In 1960, the state had one elected federal representative—counting senators and congressmen—for every 250,000 residents.  By 2022, there will be one representative for every 445,000 people.”

Considering the likely implications and consequences of a miscount of residents in rural areas, West Virginians should be responsible and proactive in ensuring each friend, cousin, family member and neighbor in each holler across the state be contacted and accurately accounted for.

The incompetency and unaccountability of the state government, the corrupt, broken state of American politics, highlighted by President Trump’s proposed social safety net slashes of around $300 billion, and the potential ramifications of an undercount or any other mistakes combine to create a cocktail too dangerous to simply sit down and shut up and hope for the best.

West Virginians must make themselves seen and heard by their government and demand the representation they—and all people everywhere—deserve.

Census Bureau officials are hiring temporary employees across the state—most recently through three regional job fairs in Huntington, Charleston and Morgantown—to help with the 2020 count. Pay ranges from $13.50 an hour to $24 an hour depending on position. More information about potential job openings to help with the 2020 census can be found online at https://2020census.gov/en/jobs.html.