Southeast Ohio Lags Behind Rest Of State In Census Completion

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — With four weeks left before Ohio’s census deadline, efforts are underway to encourage southeast Ohio residents to make sure they are counted.

Overall, response rates in Appalachian Ohio are lower than the rest of the state, according to Census Bureau data. Ohio is above the national response average, with 69.1 percent of households having filled out the census as of the end of August. The national response rate is 65 percent.

In southeastern Ohio, Athens County is at 60.7 percent, Hocking County is at 61.7 percent, Morgan County is at 57.6 percent, and Meigs County is at 59.5 percent. 

A map showing Ohio’s return rates for the 2020 census as of August 31, 2020. []
Ohio University, the Mayors’ Partnership for Progress, and the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council partnered to create an initiative called Appalachian Ohio Counts. Sunday Creek Horizons, a strategic communications and advocacy group based in Athens, worked to develop a radio and online advertising campaign to encourage people to fill out the census. 

“Historically, southeast Ohio has lower response rates,” said Will Drabold, a managing member at Sunday Creek Horizons. “There are a lack of government resources to get the word out. That’s one of the reasons this campaign was so important.”

Drabold, an Athens native, said the ads reached thousands of people over the past three months.

“We want to see this region get support,” he said, adding that a partnership like Appalachian Ohio Counts is not common in the area.

“I think it’ll be a blueprint to do a lot more outreach in the region,” he said.

Parts of Athens city that include university housing and off-campus student residences are at a much lower response rate than the rest of the city and Athens County overall, possibly due in part to the fact that most Ohio University students have been away since the end of spring break in March because of the coronavirus. The census tract that includes South Green, part of Mill Street, and the RiverPark and River’s Edge apartments has a 34.1 percent response rate, with almost all of these responses being completed online. 

A 2020 Census Form
A Census form [U.S. Census Bureau]
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said every response will bring between $1,400-1,800 for the county in federal funding. 

“That’s money that goes to things like street and neighborhood improvements, supports police and fire, goes to Job and Family Services, goes to the school districts,” he said. “There’s a lot of impacts we will see if we have this low rate.”

Census enumerators are working to contact the OU students currently living in Athens. Patterson said the city and university are working on incentives to encourage students who might move back in September if the university moves to Phase 2 of its reopening plan and resumes mostly in-person classes. But they will have a short window there: Under Phase 2, students would move in on Sept. 28, two days before the census deadline.

“It’s created a significant challenge for us,” Patterson said.

Patterson said other college and university towns are seeing a decreased count in this year’s census. 

It certainly has been challenging here in Athens,” he said.”But it’s good to recognize that pretty much every college community, college town across the nation is experiencing a very similar story.”