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Editorial: West Virginia needs to push for accurate Census count

From the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington:

West Virginia is one of the most rural states in the country, according to the 2010 Census.

About 48 percent of Mountain State residents live in what are considered “urban” clusters, according to population density. That does not just mean the state’s larger cities. Most of the state’s small towns qualify as urban, too, including several under 3,000 population, such as Oceana in Wyoming County or Hinton in Summers County.

That means more than half of the state’s residents live in even more rural settings. So, it is no small concern that some experts are worried that the U.S. Census Bureau – facing its own funding shortfalls – is unprepared to accurately count the nation’s rural population in the upcoming 2020 count.

Residents in rural areas are harder to count, according to a recent article in The Hill newspaper in Washington, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, rural residents and low-income residents are statistically less likely to return Census forms sent by mail. But just as importantly, rural residents are less likely to have access to the internet, which has become an important component of getting the Census count done. The Census Bureau hopes to get 80 percent of its responses in 2020 over the Internet, but recent surveys show that 554,124 of West Virginia’s 1.8 million residents cannot get reliable broadband.

Also troubling is that earlier this year, the Census Bureau canceled several field tests of some of the new methodologies it will use in 2020, including a test in West Virginia aimed specifically at rural residents.

None of that helps West Virginia, which has continued to experience the gradual population declines that have plagued the state for more than 50 years. According to recent estimates, the state has lost about 37,000 people since 2010 or about 2 percent of the population – the sharpest decline of any state by far.

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