A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Ron Daley: Eastern Kentucky can be a loser again in 2020 Census; School Districts are joining effort


Eastern Kentucky stands to be a loser in the 2020 U.S. Census unless successful efforts are made to count all its citizens especially its youth five years of age and under.

The loss can be in federal funding and representation in both state and federal government. According to a study by George Washington University, Kentucky stands to lose an estimated $2021 annually for each person not counted in 2020. Since Appalachian Kentucky has had significant population loss in the last two decades accelerated by the coal industry decline both state house and senate seats could be lost.

According to preliminary census estimates in 2019 the loss of population in the mountains since 2010 has been significant. For instance, Pike, Floyd, Letcher, Martin and Leslie Counties have all lost more than 10 percent of its population with Martin leading at 12.3 percent.

This map shows the counties with Complete Count Committees colored in red or blue indicating if 2020 Census operations in their area will be handled by the Lexington Area Census Office or the Louisville Area Census Office. The gray counties have not yet begun preparations. (Map courtesy of the Kentuckiana Regional Planning & Development Agency, KIPDA) (Click for larger image)

The two-mitigating potential under-reported factors are the high number of youths in poverty and the number of children living with others than their parents. The region’s poverty rate is one of the highest in the nation and the state leads the nation in kinship care with it being higher in eastern Kentucky.

Michelle Elison, a Louisville-based partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, says children are the largest undercounted age population, and notes some research suggests that more than 12,000 Kentucky children younger than age five were missed in the 2010 census.

Elison states “We have a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren. A lot of times, those grandparents do not include their grandchildren on their census questionnaire.”

Young children are difficult to count for many reasons, said Bill O’Hare, a census expert for the Count All Kids Committee. They tend to have young parents who aren’t likely to fill out census materials and who might be in the middle of significant life shifts like career transitions and housing insecurity, which may make the census a low priority.

“A lot of young kids are living with young single parents, and those are often very economically vulnerable parents. So they end up moving into other people’s households more than older children would, so they would most likely be missed,” O’Hare said. “That can be a problem with kids living with grandparents. The grandparent may not see the grandchild as part of his/her family, so many of those situations are viewed as temporary even though they may not be.”

The bureau’s research team show that 25% of uncounted children up to age four lived below the poverty line based on analysis of the 2010 Census. About 31% of that group live in a household that receives public assistance like food stamps or SNAP. They concluded that filling out the census is low on the list of priorities for many families. According to nonprofit organization Population Reference Bureau about one in 10 kids up to age four representing more than two million youth were not counted in the 2010 census.

The 44 member KVEC Student Senate consisting of juniors and seniors from the 22 high schools in eastern KY. (Photo from KVEC)

O’Hare and the Count All Kids Committee worry that undercounting could result in less funding and resources for kids in low-income communities. According to reports, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, for example, received more than $6 billion in 2015, and foster care programs received $4.6 billion. Special education grants received about $11 billion. Several government programs geared toward children — like Head Start, the National School Lunch Program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program — are also impacted by census results.

Census Bureau partnership specialists are meeting with school superintendents across the state encouraging them and their teams to be part of county count committees. Elison was joined by her colleague from Bell County, Diana Anderson, when she spoke to the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC) board of 23 school district superintendents last month about the initiative.

The 44 member KVEC Student Senate, juniors and seniors from 22 high schools in the service area will be working to get the census message out.

Constitution Week Sweepstakes for Schools

Kentucky’s team of partnership specialists are working to use next week’s 2020 Census Constitution Week Initiative to get both teachers and students involved.

The Census Bureau’s newly released 2020 Census classroom resources can be found at census.gov/schools – there are new materials for preschoolsK-12, and ELL/Adult ESL, as well as videos, games, 5-minute warm-up activities, etc.

To help direct teachers to these FREE resources, Kentucky Youth Advocates has launched a Statistics in Schools Sweepstakes during Constitution Week. Teachers can help their school win by utilizing any of these free materials in the classroom September 16-20. The more teachers that enter, the more chances their school can win. KYA has a Facebook Event page for use by educators.

Kentucky lost a congressional district in 1992 based on the 1990 census.

Elected officials in Western Kentucky have really been moving forward with 2020 Census preparations, but not so much eastern Kentucky counties – the counties that have historically had low responses to census questionnaires.

Ron Daley now resides in Lexington and continues to work in the region as the strategic lead for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC). KVEC is a consortium of 23 school districts.


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