Eagle County’s census response rate drops in 2020
Local response rate was just 38.6% this year, compared to 40.9% in 2010
At the launch of 2020, the upcoming United States Census was poised to be one of the year’s biggest news stories.
Now as we approach the final months of the year, the news prominence of the national count has been dwarfed by COVID-19, an unprecedented wildfire season and a particularly acrimonious election season.
Abby Dallmann, Eagle County Special Projects manager, reported the final county self-report census response rate failed to match 2010 participation. In total, county residents chalked up a 38.6% self report rate. That compares to a 40.9% rate in 2010.
“We threw pretty much everything we could at it, which certainly makes it a little disappointing about how it all played out in the end,” Dallmann said.
The town of Eagle had the county’s highest response rate — 61.4%. The town of Vail had the lowest — 21.6%. She noted the impact of COVID-19 is particularly noticeable with those Vail numbers.
“You can see how it played out with local population versus second-home owner population,” she explained. “Our information campaign was kicked off right at the start of COVID. All the seasonal workers, who we could have included, had left the valley.”
As a state, Colorado’s census response rate was 70%, up from a 67.2 % rate in 2010. The census officially concluded on Oct. 15 after various lawsuits made the end date a moving target.
Dallmann noted that a number of governmental jurisdictions and nonprofit groups participated in census outreach. In preparing for the event, local census officials knew there would be several hard-to-count populations in Eagle County.
“We had all these barriers we were concerned about before COVID and then COVID ended up being the greatest barrier,” Dallmann said. “We couldn’t go door-to-door in July and that really threw everyone a curve. … When COVID hit in March, we didn’t know it would continue for months and months. We had to be as adaptable as possible.”
Faced with pandemic restrictions, Dallmann said census partners came up with creative outreach efforts. For example, when people came to the MIRA bus for COVID-19 testing, county personnel shared census materials and talking points.
“That ended up being a good outreach strategy, given what we were dealing with,” Dallmann said.
Federal census officials are now completing data clean-up with a Dec. 31 deadline for a final report.
“That’s when the information is delivered to the administration, the president, and that’s when all the Congressional reapportionment process can start,” Dallmann said.
She noted no hard data from the 2020 U.S. Census has been released yet. But population estimates are compiled annually and the July 1, 2019, estimate put Eagle County’s population at 55,127.
“It will be interesting to see how close we get to that number,” Dallmann said.
While the county participation rate was lower than anticipated, Dallmann tempers her disappointment.
“I wish our self-report rate would have been higher, but I still think we did everything we could do,” she said.
And, Dallmann added, the census partners did all they could in difficult circumstances. She pointed to her own experience as an example. As special projects manager, she thought the census would be her biggest assignment in 2020. But when COVID-19 hit, Dallmann was tasked with finding PPE for Eagle County.
“Priorities just have to switch when things like a global pandemic come up,” Dallmann concluded.
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