A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Eastern Kentucky lags significantly behind rest of Kentucky and nation in census response

By Ron Daley
Special to KyForward

Eastern Kentucky is significantly lagging the state and other parts of the nation in responding to the U.S. Census which will determine future federal funding as well as representation in federal and state legislative seats.

According to data filed by the U.S. Census on April 7 the 5th Congressional District representing eastern Kentucky response rate as only 34.9% compared to the state rate of 47.5%. Kentucky is doing slightly better at 47.5% compared to the national rate of 46.2%.

Kentucky’s total 2020 Census response rates (Click for larger image)

Owsley County has the lowest response of reply to the Census at 8.9% according to figures on the United States Census 2020 website. Leslie County is the second lowest at 9.1%, followed by Martin County at 14.2% percent.

The U.S. Census Bureau had already designated the area as a “hard to count” region prior to the COVID19 pandemic because of a variety of cultural and economic factors: blended families where stepparents may be unsure of which children to account for, older residents, and people who are distrusting of the government employees who go door-to-door collecting census information.

The absence of available Internet appears to be a major reason for the poor response rate. The Kentucky rate of responding to the Census forms on the Internet is 38.3% as compared to 20.9% in the 5the Congressional District. The Owsley Internet Census Internet rate is 8.4% while Leslie and Martin counties are 8.9% and 10.1%, respectively. Many of the Appalachian counties have access to fiber broadband, however, high poverty rates and lack of job opportunities make it unaffordable.

Kentucky’s total 2020 Census Internet response rates (Click for larger image)

Therefore, the Appalachian region which is already struggling economically will face future loss of funding if the population is undercounted as predicted.

The census is used to allocate funding for more than 300 federal programs, including many that are critical to schools, like the National School Lunch Program, Title I Grants for high-poverty schools, and Head Start Early-Education programs. Districts also use population data to set attendance boundaries and to plan for future enrollment growth—or loss.

Additionally, the region stands to lose more state legislative seats, continuing the trend over the last two decades.

Realizing the region is a “hard to count region” members of the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) Student Senate representing 23 school districts began work to promote the Census last fall working in their schools and communities. The Student Senate work began October 23 during a Create-a-thon conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau in Pikeville. Junior senators from twenty-two high schools collaborated to identify demographics particular to our region, brainstorming strategies for media campaigns to not only educate the people of our region but to also persuade them to participate in the count. Students designed memes and other media products to share on social media to target those underreported populations in their schools and communities.

The students continue to work from their homes to encourage Census participation and to explain the potential loss of $2,200 per person not counted in the KVEC service region for their communities.

Ron Daley resides in Lexington. He was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2017.

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One Comment

  1. John Justice says:

    I have not received a census form..

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