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What counts most during a pandemic?

Learning more about who we are and what we value is a side effects of the current pandemic. Temporary workers prepared to take the 2020 Census in West Virginia trained in the Altice Learning Lab at Kump Education Center five days last week. Some live in Randolph County, but others came from Buckhannon, Keyser, and Marlinton. The trainer drove all the way to Beckley one night to get more supplies. Anyone who is willing to go door to door during the Covid-19 Crisis has to be dedicated.

Census takers do a real service for our community. Each time we apply for a grant, the most trusted information about the population in our county, the level of poverty, and the age of our citizens comes from the U.S. Census.

If it is not accurate, people will be misrepresented and possibly denied help by public service agencies as well as private foundations. Large companies may decide to remove their for-profit businesses from our community if they do not think we have the population to support name-brand grocery stores, fast-food restaurants, and big-box retails. The census count also determines the number of representatives we will have in Congress.

The government is not fully funding the whole 2020 Census endeavor. Those interested in taking Census information may go online to apply for the job as a temporary census taker, but there is no money to pay for local census offices nor training places. The job lasts about six weeks depending on the community size. Temporary census takers are given an hourly wage that varies from $12 to $30 depending on the location. Census takers are told they must wear a mask when they go up and knock on a door. They are not allowed to go inside homes of residents they speak with, but the information they collect is very important in the process of deciding where resources should go in our country.

Even the data that is used to calculate the percentage of people in a community who have contracted the Coronavirus come from the census. Of course there is no way to make these numbers absolutely correct, but the census does represent the best effort of unbiased individuals to count all the people in a given area no matter how poor and uncertain their conditions may be.

Homeless people form one large group that is particularly difficult to count. We see their blue plastic tarps in the woods among the hills near our house, and we notice the grocery carts they leave beside the paths that diverge from the rail trail. At times we see books, clothing, and other items that they discard when they have to lighten their load. Their discarded mattresses lie wet and rotting under bridges downtown. Some of these people have children who try to attend school from time to time. They may have a cell phone number for a month or two, but when they can’t pay the bill, the number goes dormant, and there is no way teachers can reach these kids. Food insecurity is a recurring problem in deep poverty for these children who just do not count in our society.

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