Census data is problematic for Buckingham, Cumberland counties

Published 1:45 am Wednesday, February 22, 2023

CUMBERLAND – The census data from the Weldon Cooper Center wasn’t good for Buckingham, Cumberland and most of the surrounding areas. More people are moving to the area, but not enough to offset the losses due to an aging population.

As Hamilton Lombard, the Center’s demographer explains, there are two ways you can grow population: more people moving in than out, or more births than deaths.

“When you look at the region, with the exception of Appomattox County, every locality has had more deaths than births,” Lombard explained. “Some of that is COVID, but rural areas have had an aging population that’s catching up with them.”

What does the numbers say?

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Data from the Weldon Cooper Center shows population losses for Buckingham (-0.1%), Prince Edward (-2.1%) and Charlotte (-0.8%) counties, while Cumberland and Lunenburg counties population grew 2.1 percent and 0.2 percent respectively.

“Cumberland and Lunenburg had been declining over the last couple of years, but now we’ve seen a boost of people moving out to rural areas particularly since 2020,” Lombard said. “There’s more affordable housing, you have more space, it’s quiet, that’s really what has boosted growth in those two counties.”

Cumberland County Administrator Derek Stamey says, the suburban lifestyle is something that’s not for everyone anymore.

“Folks want to live where they’ve got some room, they want to live where they’ve got some space,” Stamey explained. “A lot of folks are interested in raising poultry, things like that. I think the rural lifestyle is appealing to people.”

Stamey says the Pandemic could have been the cause for this. But Lombard notes, COVID also caused a lot of issues with the Census’ data collection this past year.

Pandemic caused problems for census data

Weldon-Cooper, which relies on different administrative data to collect its information, says the pandemic caused a lot of problems.

“We use data such as where public school students live, drivers licenses and death data, and residential construction data from local governments,” Lombard explained. “Then it’s a matter of developing a formula that gives you an estimate compared to the actual count. Normally we adjust the formula after the Census, but the past Census had a lot of problems, some because of COVID.”

For example, he explains in Prince Edward County, the Census data was skewed because they missed a good deal of college students who may have returned home to carry out their studies remotely. In order to correct this undercount, they took eight localities with over 20 percent of college students, including Prince Edward County, and benchmarked the 2020 and 2021 populations on their own estimates.

It’s about retaining students

Doug Stanley, Prince Edward County Administrator explains, it’s also about retaining students in the area.

“A lot of folks go away to college and they don’t return, so a part of that is we as a community from an economic development standpoint need to be trying to attract jobs that will bring people back to work here and want to raise a family,” Stanley said.

Looking toward the future, growth in the rural areas dealing with population losses are a way to offset that difference.

“Certainly something like the data center project that Prince Edward County is working on and we’ve got SOVA innovation coming downtown,” Stanley said. “I see some great opportunity on the horizon, but that’s certainly a goal of ours, to not only create jobs, but ones that will bring and keep people here, and stabilize population figures.”