Colorado mountain counties lag in returning census forms
April 2, 2010
SUMMIT COUNTY – April 1 is best known as April Fool’s Day, but once every 10 years (including this year), it doubles as U.S. Census Day. The joke could be on Summit County if it doesn’t catch up to the rest of the country in census participation.
As of Thursday, only 21 percent of Summit households had mailed in their completed census questionnaires. The county is lagging far behind the rest of the state and the nation, both of which have reached 52 percent in participation so far, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The U.S. Constitution requires that all U.S. residents – not just citizens – participate in the census. The federal government uses the data to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. Census data also serve as the basis for distribution of federal tax dollars to communities throughout the country. Statewide, $880 dollars return to local communities each year for every person counted in the census.
“We are pleased with Colorado’s progress,” U.S. census spokeswoman Deborah Cameron said. “We are ahead of the national response rate in many communities.”
Nearby Jefferson, Denver and Douglas counties have participation rates of 60 percent, 56 percent and 52 percent, respectively. Twenty-eight percent of households in Eagle and Pitkin counties have returned their forms.
“We want to keep the momentum going. It’s important that people continue to send in their forms so they can get their share of the $400 billion each year in federal funding,” Cameron said.
Cameron speculated that the high percentage of second homes in Summit County might be artificially dragging down Summit’s participation rate. However, she said there may be other factors at play.
“Maybe people aren’t realizing how closely related the census is to federal dollars going into their community. Maybe people don’t realize how safe it is – we don’t share our information with anyone,” Cameron said.
Cameron said some people overestimate how much time the form takes to fill out – it has 10 questions and takes about 10 minutes.
April 1 is the date of reference – not the deadline – for completing census forms. For example, a person who turns 32 on April 3 should enter his or her age as “31” on the census form. Residents can mail their forms to the U.S. government by mid-April without expecting a return visit from a U.S. census worker. After that, census workers will return to a household that has not participated as many as six times.
Megan Kimmel, 30, who was visiting Summit County Thursday from Silverton, said she completed her form about two weeks ago.
“I live in a small town,” Kimmel said. “It’s important for us to show a population, because it affects how much money the town gets. And why not fill it out? There’s no reason not to.”
One Frisco woman, who asked not to be named, said she thought Summit County’s high percentage of young and transient residents could be to blame for the community’s low census participation rate. The 28-year-old said she and her four roommates hadn’t yet gotten around to completing the form. She was confused as to why the federal government would need the demographic information provided by the decennial count.
“I guess the questions don’t really seem to matter much,” she said. “Most of the questions are about age, gender and race, and I guess we just never really saw the importance of it.”