How many residents in Pitco?
Nobody is sure how many people are living in the city of Aspen, or in Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork Valley in general.
And this uncertainty may be costing local governments millions of dollars in lost federal support, and the electorate in terms of lost political clout.
It is generally accepted among area officials that the U.S. Census Bureau, which is in charge of counting all Americans every 10 years, has not done a good job in this region.
For example, in the most recent report on Pitkin County’s population, done in 1997, it is estimated that there are a total of 14,239 people here, an increase of 12.5 percent from the 1990 official census count of 12,661. For Aspen, the population was said to be 5,049 in 1990, and 5,555 in 1997. Officials believe these figures to be low, possibly very low.
“They think it’s fairly sizable,” said Linda Venturoni of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, which is coordinating preparations for the 2000 census in this region, about the “undercounting” of this region.
She said the undercounting of Pitkin County may be as high as 15 percent, which translates into a loss of federal funds in a variety of programs and possibly a loss of clout in electoral politics.
“It’s dollars and power,” she said of the importance of getting an accurate census.
Among the potential beneficiaries of more accurate census counts here are the social services and welfare, senior citizens’ programs, and transportation projects such as the expansion of Colorado Highway 82 and the proposed reactivation of passenger train service between Aspen and Glenwood Springs.
According to Venturoni, each person counted in the census is worth at least $150 per year in federal dollars allocated to local jurisdictions. That amounts to $1,500 per person over the 10-year period of the census. If Pitkin County was undercounted by more than 1,800 people, as Venturoni suggests, that could amount to more than $2.8 million in lost revenues.
In addition, the periodic reapportionment of legislative districts is done according to population, so that each legislator represents roughly the same number of people. Venturoni said the undercounting robs this region of its rightful allocation of power in the halls of government.
Venturoni said she has begun working with local government representatives to put together a committee that will act as the conduit for information about the 2000 census and encourage local citizens to stand up and be counted.
The NWCCOG is involved, she said, because the federal government prefers to work through regional organizations rather than with individual towns and counties. Besides, she said, NWCCOG is involved with the distribution of federal grants and would be active in any protest of an inaccurate census count.
Locally, planner Stephanie Millar and Pitkin County GIS Coordinator Stacia Garwood have been named as the contacts for census-related work in this area. Both women said they were only recently handed the assignment and have yet to do much work on it. But an organizational meeting of various regional government representatives is set for later this month, where Venturoni said she hopes to get the ball rolling.
Venturoni said a large part of the local committees’ work will be to educate local citizens about the timing of the census, and about the importance of responding to the census as quickly as possible.
The committee also is expected to recruit local census workers, to avoid the difficulties that occurred in 1990. Venturoni said that thanks in part to low pay (census workers earned only about $6 an hour in 1990) there was a shortage of workers and many had to be imported from Grand Junction. This year’s salary will start at $12.50 per hour ($14.50 for “team leaders”), and census workers will be delivering the forms to local residences with instructions for them to be mailed back.
She said the date of the count in Pitkin County has been changed from the usual April 1, because officials decided that too many locals were leaving town near the end of the ski season and not being counted. This time, she said, the local count will commence on March 1, 2000, in the hope that more people will be around to be counted.
And, she said, “The big push in our area has to be to get that first form in.” She said the initial count is traditionally followed up a month or two later, but that second count is expected to come up short for the same reason that the count date was moved.
Among the traditionally “undercounted” populations, she said, are Latinos (legal or not), transient and seasonal workers, and part-time residents.
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Lift-Up has helped feed hungry families in the Roaring Fork Valley for 38 years, but experienced in a surge in demand this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. It is making changes to meet the demand and address allegations of incidents of discrimination.