Guard against census errors

The face-reality crowd in West Virginia sometimes laughs at how local government officials react to U.S. Census Bureau estimates indicating that some of our cities and counties are losing population. A common excuse offered by mayors and county commissioners is that the feds missed some people in their counts and estimates.

Turns out they may be right.

Among the most authoritative sources of information about how children throughout the United States are doing are the annual KIDS Count reports produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The reports can be disturbing reading for Mountain State residents. They indicate that in everything from health care to education, we need to do better for our children.

But this year’s report contained an interesting warning. According to the foundation’s report, “Approximately 26% of West Virginia’s young children (under the age of 5) live in hard-to-count areas in the state, putting them at risk of being undercounted in the 2020 census.” The report explains such children are “living in rural areas, multi-dwelling homes and other areas throughout the state.”

As the foundation explains, undercounting of children, especially those whose families have low incomes, means their municipalities, counties, school systems and state may miss out on some federal funding that could benefit the youngsters.

But the foundation’s warning has other ramifications. If children are missed by the census, so are their parents, guardians and perhaps other relatives living in their homes. That could have a significant effect on federal money flowing into West Virginia, in more ways than one.

Some have warned that, with the rest of the nation growing while West Virginia remains stagnant, we could lose one of the three members of the U.S. House of Representatives who now represent us in Washington.

If the foundation is right, officials in West Virginia need to begin planning now for how to aid the Census Bureau in ensuring that as many of our state’s residents as possible are counted.