This week the Census Bureau will release the information that federal, state and local officials have been wanting for months. On Thursday, the bureau will release detailed population counts from last year’s census.
We will learn how many people live in our counties, cities and in some cases our neighborhoods. People who dive into these numbers will learn much about population change, race, ethnicity, age and housing status.
State and local officials need the data to redraw precinct and district lines for the remainder of the decade, but the numbers will do more than that.
For one, they will tell us how political power in states is shifting among urban, suburban and rural areas. We will learn which areas have more older people and which have more younger. Will Huntington find itself having more people than Charleston for the first time in decades? We will see.
Cabell County has been the second-largest in West Virginia in terms of population, trailing only Kanawha County. Census Bureau estimates based on births, deaths and migration indicate Cabell County could end up fourth now, behind Berkeley and Monongalia counties.
People in the southern counties will want to see how they are trending. McDowell County, which had more than 98,000 people in 1950, could find its population has fallen below 20,000.
West Virginians will look at their state’s numbers and ask what can be done to change unfavorable trends. Thursday’s data release could show counties in this entire region of Appalachia — eastern Kentucky, western Virginia and northeastern Tennessee along with southern Ohio — share many of the same demographic problems or advantages
We will learn which areas have seen an increase in minority population and which have seen decreases.
In the past, these numbers were released in batches. State totals were released late in the year of the census, and detailed numbers were released by state in groups throughout the following spring. Last year’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. States received their final counts several months ago, but the local-level data is being released all at once.
That will keep demographers, elected officials and others busy for a few days sorting through the numbers. It will be nerd heaven for number crunchers.
Of course, the big question will be how we use this information. Some people will wallow in the misery the numbers provide, while others will see them as a series of challenges to overcome.
Come Thursday, we should get some answers to that one.