CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Around 29 percent of West Virginia households have an “unmailable address” and state officials working on the 2020 U.S. Census response believe that is a major reason why numbers remain low.
Jill Upson, the Executive Director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs and member of the state’s Complete Count Commission told MetroNews that the census has been unable to get enumerators out into the field to those addresses because of the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions.
As of Thursday, West Virginia remains second to last in the country in household response to the census at 37.3 percent, equaling 370,000 responses.
“We have areas that just have the type of geography that you have to physically go out to that household in order for those people to receive their census form,” she said.
Upson said the Complete Count Commission, established by Gov. Jim Justice with numerous state leaders, is meeting via phone “regularly” to come up with safe ways for the enumerators to work when restrictions are lifted.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced on Monday that all field operations had to be suspended until June 1 and the deadline for all responses pushed to Oct. 31 due to the virus. Field operations had originally been suspended in mid-March, lasting until this week.
“If you look at a lot of what’s being done in the food and beverage industry where you have contact-free delivery, I think that might an option as a way to do it,” Upson said.
“Leave the forms at the home and to follow up without having to physically make contact with people.”
Response numbers are low across the country as Alaska is the last state at a 33 percent rate. Including West Virginia and Alaska, five states are below 40 percent response rate, as of Thursday.
25 states are above 50 percent with Minnesota leading the way at 59.2 percent. The total national response rate is 49.4 percent as of Thursday. The final response rate for West Virginia in 2010 was 59.1 percent.
The administration of President Donald Trump has asked for another four-month delay to complete the census during the pandemic. The proposal would give the bureau until April 30 of next year to deliver apportionment counts rather than December 31.
Included in the count is the redrawing of the country’s congressional districts which greatly impacts West Virginia. That deadline would be pushed to no later than July 31, 2021, rather than in March next year.
Upson says she supports any kind of delay because of COVID-19. She said the state would lose around $2,000 per uncounted person per year for the next 10 years and that would be unacceptable.
“When you’re considering that it’ll be another 10 years before any errors can be corrected, we want to get as accurate of a count as we can this time around,” she said.
As of Thursday, Wood County leads all West Virginia counties in response at 52.3 percent. Lewis, Jefferson and Berkeley round out the top four which are the only ones above 50 percent. McDowell, Pendleton, Summers, Wyoming, and Mingo have the five lowest response rates per county in the state, all below 12 percent.
North Hills, Clearview, Glen Dale, Williamstown, and Bridgeport are the top municipalities in the state to respond.
The ongoing issues with broadband in parts of West Virginia is another factor in census response.Upson said anyone who hasn’t responded and has access to broadband to log on to 2020census.gov.