Giving Thought: Don’t forget to participate in the 2020 Census

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought
Tamara Tormohlen
Steve Mundinger

It’s not easy to perform a thorough national headcount during a pandemic, but that’s exactly what the 2020 United States Census is attempting to do.

Remember back in March when COVID-19 first descended on Colorado? Here’s a reminder. The Census opened on March 12, and some of you probably responded online or asked for a paper form. On March 14, however, Gov. Jared Polis closed the state’s ski resorts because of the coronavirus and we’ve been adrift on the ever-shifting sea of COVID ever since.

If you completely forgot about the census, then you’re not alone. However, I urge you to take a few minutes soon and make sure you are counted. Believe me, it’s easy.

“This is one small thing you can do to make a difference in your community for the next 10 years,” said Rachel Brenneman, campaign director for the Aspen-to-Parachute Complete Count Committee. “It’s literally about 5 or 10 minutes of your time. It’s almost as easy as buying something on Amazon.”

The census occurs every 10 years and its goal is to count all residents of the United States. As the country’s most exhaustive headcount, the census drives an extraordinary amount of activity. School districts, health care facilities, road departments, electric utilities and many other entities use census data to understand the people and communities they serve. It’s the closest thing we have to a national profile.

This year, however, the census had barely begun when COVID-19 turned our lives upside down. The entire project should have been finished by July 31, but not during a pandemic.

“All the boots-on-the-ground efforts were put on hold,” Brenneman explained. “The census pushed the deadline (initially) to Oct. 31.”

That change was supposed to give people more time to participate, but the virus has continued to distract attention and hamper the door-to-door workers hired to raise awareness and collect people’s information. On Aug. 10, the Census Bureau moved the deadline backward to Sept. 30. By law, the Bureau must present its results to the president by Dec. 31.

This new deadline gives the Complete Count Committee about six weeks to rally residents of Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties to fill out their forms. The easiest way to perform this simple task is to go online to (If you don’t have a 12-digit census ID code, which you should have received by mail, then click the lower button to continue.)

A complete count is essential to provide quality public services. Brenneman says each census respondent represents $2,300 in federal funding for Colorado.

“If 100 residents don’t participate in the census,” she said, “then we’re talking $2,300 x 100 x 10 years, which is $2.3 million.”

The census population estimates also play into a state’s congressional representation. Because of its rapidly growing population, Colorado stands to get an eighth congressional seat, which would mean a bigger voice in government.

At this point, the census response has varied widely across the state. In Pitkin County, only 36% of households have participated in the census. Of course, given that many Aspen-area dwellings are second homes, many of those homeowners may have responded from their primary residences in other states.

Eagle County, which too has many second homes, is at 35%. Garfield County, where most residents are year-round, has a stronger response rate at 63%. The Census Bureau hopes to get at least as much 2020 participation as it received in 2010. In that year, Pitkin County came in at 39.8%, Eagle County 40.9% and Garfield 60.1%.

As a state, Colorado is 16th in the nation at 66.7%. Minnesota, currently in first place, has a 72.6% response rate.

Let’s make Colorado and the Roaring Fork Valley an example for participation in this important national effort.

“In a time when everything seems out of control, this is really a chance to do something that matters,” Brenneman said.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.