Census 2020: Make Rural Count!

Within one year of President Washington’s inauguration as the first president, Thomas Jefferson, the Secretary of State at the time, undertook the first census in the United States.  Since that time, we have had 22 federal censuses (you can say “censuses” or “census” for the plural form) since then, most recently in 2010.  The 1790 Census Act was passed on March 1, 1790 and required that every household be visited and counted.   

The word “census” originated in ancient Rome and comes from the Latin word “censere” (“to estimate”).  In the Roman Empire, it was used to determine taxes, starting in the 6th century BC, at which time they counted 80,000 arms-bearing citizens. 

In 1790, the Census counted “Free white males 16 years and older,” “Free White males under 16 years, “Free White females,” “All other free persons,” and “Slaves.” But that census did not count Indians, as they were not taxed and not counted.  It was not until after 1924 when Indians were made US citizens that they were counted in the 1930 census. In 1790, 3,929,214 people were counted, 700,000 of whom were slaves, and the results of this census increased the number of members in the US House of Representatives from 69 to 105 members.

The first Census that I remember participating was in 2010.  I am sure that I was counted somewhere in the 1960, 70, 80, 90, 00 censuses, but I only remember the 2010.  That one sticks in my mind because for the first time I did not receive a census in the US Mail.  What made 2010 special?  Did the government suddenly change its methods?  No!  We moved to San Miguel County in 2001 and this was the first census when all my mail came to my Post Office box in Telluride.

For me, and for many thousands of us living in San Miguel, Ouray and the West End of Montrose County, the only way I could be counted in 2010 was for a US Census employee to drive out toward Trout Lake and visit me at the end of a half mile dirt road.  And I remember that Saturday in late spring 2010 when the young man knocked on the front door of our house to ask me to complete the Census.  I don’t remember now if he asked me the short version with 10 questions or the longer version that 1 in 6 households received.  It was a moot point—with 5 kids in the house under the age of 20 I had a lot of questions to answer.  But I dutifully responded as did 308,745,538 others, a 9.7% increase over 2010.

Colorado’s population in 2010 was 5,029,196, a 16.9% increase from 2000 (and 22nd among the states).  In San Miguel County, there were 7,359 residents, 91.44% who were persons not of Hispanic or Latino origin, and 8.56% who were of Hispanic or Latino origin.  Over half were males (54.3%) and the majority were between the ages of 18 and 64 (73.31%).  But, were there really only 7,359 of us?  And were there only 4, 436 people in Ouray County? There were also 41, 276 people in Montrose County in 2010, and 711 in Nucla and 546 in Naturita—seems like maybe they missed counting a few of our neighbors to the west too.

Fast forward 10 years to the 2020 Census.  Many of you may recall reading in the press reports that the Federal Government was planning to cut funding to the US Census Bureau and that they would be asking respondents about their citizenship status (this also came up in 2010 as well).  Funding for the US Census Bureau has lagged behind the 2000 and 2010 efforts, but fortunately attempts to ask about one’s citizenship were defeated. 

So why is the Census so important and what’s new in 2020?

First, based on the work of the US Census after the 2010 Census, San Miguel County was believed to be undercounted by as much as 35%.  Wait, that means that there might have been as many as 9,935 of us in 2010, and for the last decade we have not received our fair share of funding from state and federal sources (in 2015, for example, more than $675 billion dollars in funds were distributed based on census data, including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Highway planning and construction, National school lunch program, Temporary assistance for needy families (TANF), Title 1 grants to local schools). 

Second, many local and state governments, and private foundations have stepped forward to ensure that everyone is counted, especially in our rural communities, and among hard to reach populations such as our older citizens, children, immigrants.  Tri-County Health Network has received support for census outreach from San Miguel County, the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the Johnson Family Foundation, Together We Count, and the NextFifty Foundation.

Third, in 2010 and before you had to get a physical form in the mail, or someone had to visit you at home.  Since many of us get our mail at post office boxes, and we have a county that stretches over 1,300 square miles (to say nothing of our neighbors in the west end of Montrose County and Ouray County), it should not be a surprise that we might have missed a few of us in 2010.  They are still only mailing the actual census forms to physical residences, so many of us still won’t receive an official census form by mail.  But there are alternatives!

Fourth, the good news is that the census can now be completed online or over the telephone.  Today, you can respond to the census at www.my2020census.gov, or by calling 844-330-2020 (English) or 844-468-2020 (Spanish).  You do not need any information other than the address of your residence. 

Once we put the physical distancing of COVID19 behind us, Tri-County Health Network will be supporting permanent sites where you can complete the census online (like the Wilkinson Library, the Lone Cone Library, the Ouray Library), and hosting temporary pop-up sites around our communities.

But don’t wait until you see our Census Team out in the streets or when the US Census employees drive up to your house.  Fill out your census today online or by telephone.  It only takes 10 minutes and your communities will receive 10 years of benefits.

Make Rural Count!

Paul Reich, Behavioral Health Programs Manager

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