Two Rural Counties With Colorado’s Lowest 2020 Census Response Rates Hope To Catch Up

September 1, 2020
Virus Outbreak-Census SurveyVirus Outbreak-Census SurveyMatt Rourke/AP
A 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident.

Hinsdale County is one of the most remote counties in the country. Right now it's also last among all Colorado counties when it comes to response rates for the 2020 U.S. Census.

Fewer than 20 percent of residents there have filled out their census forms. And Hinsdale County only has one month left to improve on that as much as possible.

So far, nearly 85 percent of Colorado households have responded. That's above the national rate of 83.2 percent. Douglas County has the state's highest rate with 84.1 percent. And statewide, census workers are trying to follow up with households that have not yet responded.

In Hinsdale County, confusion about addresses is one reason why it's been challenging to get surveys to people in this part of southwestern Colorado. The main road through the county is Colorado Highway 149, which is known in some parts by a different name, according to Hinsdale County Commissioner Kristine Borchers.

The official census count has statewide implications, as it could give Colorado an eighth seat in the U.S. House. Locally, it also determines funding for federal grants that help Hinsdale County pay for improvements to things like the sewer system, roads and its courthouse, Borchers said.

"We rely heavily on grants for continued operation of some of our programs and capital improvements," she said. "So for us, it's really important that our year-round residents are submitting their data to the census."

Some mountain communities in Colorado also see lower response rates because questionnaires go uncompleted by second homeowners who live elsewhere for most of the year.

In February, Hinsdale County had a vacancy rate around 75 percent, according to Borcher. She added that the county's response rate is much higher when only counting year-round residents.

Nearby Mineral County faces a similar problem. It has the second-lowest response rate in Colorado so far and also has a large number of seasonal residents, County Commissioner Jesse Albright said.

Most residents in Mineral County get their mail delivered to a post office box instead of to their home, according to Albright. He said census mailers did not go to P.O. boxes until recently, and that's another reason why the county's responses have lagged.

On top of that, Albright added that residents in Mineral County prefer their privacy.

"There are people who don't want to be counted here," he said. "They don't like just somebody coming and knocking on their door."

He said the county was severely undercounted during the last census in 2010. Around that time, he had the same mindset that many of his neighbors have today.

"Ten years ago, I was probably more along the lines of, 'Why do you need to count me?'" he said. "But once you learn about something, you realize how important it truly is."

Data collection for the 2020 U.S. Census is scheduled to end on Sept. 30.