Colorado mountain towns feel more crowded than ever. But census data show the population has barely changed.

Pitkin and Eagle counties are challenging the results of the 2020 census, worried that an undercount will slow the flow of federal money

Creede town administrator Janelle Kukuk found her 2020 U.S. Census form hanging on this gatepost at the turnoff to her property outside of town. During the winter the gate is closed and only residents have access. It is five miles from the locked gate to Janelle's house. Many census forms were left on gateposts or doorsteps and an unknown number were lost because of that. Although Creede had an 85% response to the census Kukuk things it could have been a higher percentage if so many forms hadn't been misplaced or lost.The small brown box is for packages.
Dean Krakel/Special to The Colorado Sun

Mick Ireland knows Pitkin County’s streets. The former Aspen mayor and 30-year politico has knocked on thousands of his neighbors’ doors over the years, promoting candidates and ballot issues as well as helping to register voters.

So when the 2020 census report showed entire blocks in Pitkin County — not city blocks but the small geographic areas that the U.S. Census Bureau breaks the country into — with populations of zero, he took note. Using the county’s geographic information system – GIS – mapping, he started finding more blocks across the county that appear to have been missed by the 2020 census. In some blocks the census counted fewer homes despite new construction.

“I know those buildings simply didn’t disappear. My estimate is that about 1,000 people were not counted,” said Ireland, who is working with county leaders to assemble a detailed list that could become a formal challenge to the 2020 census count.

More counties are doing the same. After census takers struggled to count every U.S. resident in their place during the chaotic pandemic, more counties in Colorado are finding discrepancies with the tally that will determine how many federal dollars flow into communities. (The 2010 census showed that 316 federal spending programs relied on the 2010 count to distribute about $1.5 trillion in annual spending. Colorado gets about $19.2 billion a year in census-guided funds, which amounts to about $3,500 per resident.)

So a count that comes up 1,000 short in Pitkin County, could cost the county $35 million over the next decade.

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“This is a large amount of money we are talking about,” Ireland said.

Read more via the Colorado Sun.

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