Despite daily reminders by mail and through the media to complete Census forms, eastern Kentucky still lags far behind the state and the nation in the number of people self-reporting their information to the Census.
State and local officials are worried the lack of participation will have an adverse affect on the money governments will receive to do needed work on infrastructure, roads, and other projects, and money to recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic.
While an estimated 64.1 percent of people have responded to the Census statewide, placing Kentucky 14th in the nation, Letcher County ranks 100th out of 120 counties in the state at just 48.5 percent responding. In contrast, Oldham County, the richest county in Kentucky, is first among the 120 counties with 79.8 percent responding.
At 100th, Letcher County is still far ahead of the county with the lowest participation. Only 19.5 percent of people responded to the survey in Owsley County, the poorest county in the state.
There are 2,124 counties in the nation with higher response rates than Letcher.
“There is between $2,000 and $3,200 for every person that isn’t counted in federal money that will be absorbed by other counties,” State Rep. Angie Hatton of Whitesburg said.
In addition, the state could lose a representative in Congress if the population isn’t counted correctly, and this region could lose power in the state legislature, where one representative is allocated for every 42,000 people, Hatton said.
“There are 18 state representatives in Louisville,” she said. “That’s more than all of eastern Kentucky.”
Hatton said she has put appeals on Facebook and Twitter, has done radio interviews and a radio address, as well as doing public service announcements, but people still avoid the Census.
“It’s not difficult, and it’s not intrusive,” she said, noting that none of the information on the Census could be used for identity theft.
In Whitesburg, Mayor James Wiley Craft said the city is advertising the Census and pushing people to fill it out with only limited success. In the city, an estimated 51.9 percent have filled out the form, enough to make the city the leader in response in the county, but only 234th in the state.
“I guess to a certain extent, people are questioning its value, they don’t see how it will affect them,” Craft said.
In Jenkins, where an estimated 43 percent of residents have completed the form, Mayor Todd Depriest said there is a mix-up with addresses because the Postal Service serves many different places from the Jenkins Post Office, and while the addresses say “Jenkins,” many of them are outside the city and the county.
He said the city needs an accurate count not only because of grant money that is based on population, but that a lot of businesses look at population numbers to determine whether they should locate in a town.
“I’ve been on the radio with it, and we’ve tried to talk about it at the meetings and get it out,” Depriest said. “You just can’t make people understand, it doesn’t take any time.”
Fleming-Neon, the smallest active city in the county, also has the lowest Census response at 25.4 percent, or 399th place in Kentucky.
Mayor Susie Polis said she’s urged the city employees to fill out their Census forms and has returned her own, but hasn’t made a big push to get city residents to do it.
“I might have to try to get them to do that,” she said, when she learned the city’s percentage of returns was low.
But while the rate in Fleming- Neon is low, the city has roared past some others in eastern Kentucky. Vicco in nearby Perry County has a completion rate of just 17.9 percent. That’s 407th in the state, but it’s still double the 415th (last) place. Campton in Wolfe County has a completion rate of 8.3 percent.