The Pine River Valley holds the best and the worst 2020 census response rates in La Plata County, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Coloradans are ahead of the national response rate, with completed responses from 64.6% of Colorado households compared with 61.4% nationally. But like other rural areas across the nation, the five-county region in Southwest Colorado is falling behind.
While insufficient internet and hard-to-count populations could slow the process, throwing a celebration seems to help, said Katie Sickles, Bayfield town manager.
“The celebration form of getting the word out was very successful,” Sickles said. “The celebration is really what gets people to understand how it affects them. In the past, it has been a better way to approach and connect with citizens.”
In La Plata County, where 53.4% of households have responded, the town of Bayfield has the highest response rate, 62.8%, according to the Census Bureau. The town enticed people with ice cream and walls of balloons during its early June celebration and used banners and a social media campaign to get the word out.
The U.S. Constitution mandates a census of the population every 10 years. The 2020 census will count everyone who lives in the United States as of April 1, 2020. Census statistics help determine the number of seats each state holds in the U.S. House of Representatives and how billions of dollars in federal money will be allocated by state, local and federal lawmakers every year for the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The count process will continue through October.
Among southwestern counties, Montezuma has recorded the highest response rate of about 57% and ranked 23rd in the state out of 64 counties, as of Monday. San Juan County, Colorado, has the lowest rate of 23.3%, 60th in the state. Archuleta County’s response rate is 36.9%; Dolores’ rate is 37.8%
In La Plata County, Durango came in second with a response rate of 61.9%. But the town of Ignacio, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe reservation and the county’s northeast region are struggling to bring in responses. About 35% of tribal members have responded, about 26% of Ignacio residents and about 25% of rural residents in the northeastern region.
“I’m not sure what might be causing that,” said Mark Garcia, Ignacio’s interim town manager. “We might take a more proactive role in our next newsletter. We have a big banner up, hopefully that might get the word out.”
Higher poverty rates in rural areas are linked to census undercounts. Census studies over the past 50 years have also shown that the undercount is greater among racial and ethnic minorities than among whites, according to the Carsey School of Public Policy.
Of the 90.8 million American households that have responded to the census, about half responded online. That’s a challenge for those living in rural areas like the Pine River Valley.
Many groups in rural America have low rates of internet access at home, according to the Carsey report. About 40% of black households experiencing poverty in the rural South and Hispanics facing poverty in the rural Southwest do not have internet access at home.
“Outreach and education to our hard-to-reach populations – many of which live in the most rural parts of the county were disrupted by COVID,” said Heather Otter, who serves on the La Plata County Complete Count Committee.
In response, the Complete Count Committee used radio and newspaper advertisements, conducted social media campaigns and worked with local governments to get the word out, Otter said.