As the ever-important 2020 census approached, many of the staff members involved in Jefferson County’s effort to get residents to respond to the national survey knew they would be facing a …
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As the ever-important 2020 census approached, many of the staff members involved in Jefferson County’s effort to get residents to respond to the national survey knew they would be facing a landscape that had change significantly since the last census in 2010.
“There’s been the growth of social media and cell phone usage and just the way media in general has changed,” said Jeremy Fleming, an employee in the county’s public affairs office who is helping coordinating census outreach. “A lot of different things have changed in 10 years.”
After discussing the strategies used during the 2010 process and the successes and failures of that effort, Fleming and other county staff members decided they wanted to bring as many community groups and stakeholders as possible into the county effort to encourage county residents to respond to the census.
Those discussions led to the formation of the Jeffco Complete Count Committee, which consisted of representatives of 35-plus organizations, nonprofits and other stakeholders along with individual residents who wanted to be involved.
“So we got people from the cities, the school district, the business community, the faith communities,” said County Commissioner Casey Tighe. “We just tried to get different people with different networks all together to try to get involved in getting the word out about how important the census is.”
The members of the committee then broke up into different subcommittees with varying focuses, including communications and non-profits.
But while the committee thought it had a good infrastructure in place, the COVID-19 pandemic, which arrived in Colorado just as the census process was getting underway, was one challenge they had not anticipated.
“When everything started shutting down with COVID-19, we were all really bummed because the timing was just really bad, it was right when we had been planning for months to hit it hard with our communication,” Fleming said.
But while COVID-19 has presented challenges, including the need to rethink certain ad buys at movie theaters and on RTD transportation, Fleming said the “numbers are starting to speak for themselves when it comes to the county’s census outreach efforts.
The number Fleming is referring to is 76.2%, which was the county’s census response rate as of June 25. That number gives the county the second highest response rate in the state among counties (just slightly behind Douglas County’s rate of 76.7%) and the 52nd highest in the nation.
That also means Jefferson County has already nearly matched its overall response rate from 2010 which was 77%.
Kirk Hagaman, a Planning and Zoning Department supervisor who is involved in supplying county addresses to the census bureau, said that while he thinks the option to respond to the census online that was added in the wake of COVID-19 has increased numbers, he attributes the increase largely to the committee.
“In 2010 we did have a committee outreach effort but it was much more a grassroots effort and this time around it was a lot more organized and we have so many organizations involved trying to get outreach out to the undercounted and hard to count areas of the county,” Hagaman said.
The county has also benefitted from a $63,000 state grant secured by the city of Lakewood that was spent on promotional materials that were distributed around the county.
In light of COVID-19, the census will now continue through Oct. 31, giving people three additional months to respond. The nonresponse follow-up phase, in which census takers attempt to interview households in-person that have not already responded, is now scheduled to begin on Aug. 11 after being previously slated to run May 13-July 31.
The county also continues to try to “get creative” about new ways to reach those remaining holdouts, including more social media posting and one plan in the works that will involve purchasing COVID-19 face coverings that will display information promoting the census on them.
“I’m happy that we are amongst the leaders but I would like to be No. 1,” said Tighe. “But these last folks are the toughest so it is going to take a real hard push to get us over the finish line at the end.”
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