Summit County’s census response rate is low, and COVID-19 isn’t helping
DILLON — Summit County’s census data impacts everything from education funding to water and waste management services. It also impacts the availability of health care, but the current health crisis is negatively impacting the county’s response rate.
Jason Lederer, Summit County’s interim public information officer, explained that census data generally helps government decision-makers map out where supplies should be sent for everyday needs as well as disaster preparedness.
“Our census data is used to understand the needs of the community from a health care perspective … in terms of staffing, in terms of grants as well as equipment and materials, and the things that go into providing health care to the community,” Lederer said. “That’s all dependent upon what the census data shows.”
Summit County has a historically low census response rate. The 2010 response rate was 27.8% while the state’s overall rate was 67.2%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Currently, Summit County’s self-response rate is 15.5%. In the county’s defense, Lederer pointed out that response rates are based on all the homes in the county, which means second homes and short-term rentals are included.
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“If you take that into account, the response rates for actual residents — people that are here full time, year-round — it could be somewhere around 45% to 60% given that two-thirds to three-quarters of our residences are not primary residences, so that certainly impacts our numbers,” Lederer said.
However, other mountain communities that have lots of second homes and short-term rentals still have higher self-response rates for the 2020 census. Nearby Eagle County has a 20.9% response rate while Pitkin County has a 29.1% response rate.
Lederer listed three reasons for why he believes the response in Summit County is lackluster so far:
- The early departure of seasonal workers
- The fact that many Summit County residents did not receive the census by mail
- The inability of the county and Census Bureau to engage with residents due to the COVID-19 shutdown
Many Summit County residents didn’t receive a census packet in the mail. The packet invites people to complete the census and provides a census ID. The census is tied to physical addresses, and because the census is not mailed to post office boxes, many households never received a packet.
“I think the other thing that tripped people up is that even if they did know about the census and they went onto the website to do the census, the first thing it asks you is for your census ID,” Lederer said. “In small print right below there, it says, ‘Don’t have a census ID?’ But if you missed that, you wouldn’t know how to continue.”
Lederer also pointed out that if it wasn’t for the coronavirus shutdown, seasonal employees would have stayed later into the spring, at least through March, which was when census self-response data collection began.
“This year, many of our seasonal workers left the community early when the ski areas shut down in mid-March, so we suspect that many of them didn’t complete the census,” Lederer said.
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He said it’s possible these individuals moved to another community and responded on behalf of that community.
Lederer said the county had an $80,000 grant-funded outreach campaign designed to increase census participation but was hijacked by COVID-19. He said events designed to engage with the community regarding the census had to be canceled.
“Our messaging timed with the onset of the pandemic has really impacted our ability to reach people,” Lederer said.
Lederer said door-to-door operations for field data collection, which had to be postponed, have been effective in the past. The U.S. Census Bureau announced in a news release that field operations in Colorado would resume this week.
According to the release, census field staff will drop off 2020 census packets at the front doors of households in areas like Summit County where mail is not delivered to people’s homes. The process will not require person-to-person interaction.
Anyone can respond to the census online at 2020Census.gov, via phone at 844-330-2020 or by mailing a completed census questionnaire. There are no citizenship questions on the census, and individual information is kept private.
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