Routt County grows more urban, more diverse and older over past decade |

Routt County grows more urban, more diverse and older over past decade

The U.S. Census Bureau has released the data from the 2020 Census. (Image by Bryce Martin)

Routt County grew more urban, more diverse and older in the past decade, but population growth overall lagged behind that of Colorado as a whole, according to redistricting data released by the U.S. Census Bureau last week.

The county’s population grew by 5.6% since 2010, an addition of about 1,320 people. But that is just a third of the 15% growth rate that earned Colorado a new congressional district.

The United State’s in general grew at the slowest rate since the 1930s in the past decade, which has been attributed to declining birth rates and less immigration. Another factor could be that the census was conducted under unique circumstances.

Former President Donald Trump’s Administration tried and failed to add a citizenship question to the census early on that some feared would discourage return rates among immigrants and then the national survey meant to reach every American had to adjust to counting people in a pandemic.

After the first data dump in April, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said the count was “complete and accurate,” and the census reached 99.9% of addresses in Colorado, according to the census.

Routt County’s 2020 population was 24,829 according to 2020 census data published by the Colorado State Demography Office, which is about 800 people less than estimates for the county’s 2019 population using the American Community Survey.

“I really think because of the timing of the pandemic, and the timing of the census, I just think that they missed people,” said Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kim Bonner, who added that if the data was off, she didn’t know by how much.

But Scott Ford, a self-proclaimed resident data geek, said that even if the data is off at the margins, the data is very useful to find trends.

“Pinpoint accuracy is not its specialty,” Ford said. “Are we subject to a little bit of an undercount? We could be, but in the big picture, were close. … It’s imperfect, but it’s the very best we have.”

Urban migration

The growth locally, or lack there of, surprises some, but rural communities growing at slower rates than the state as a whole is a trend that can be seen across Colorado as people flock to more populous communities.

Broomfield and Weld counties on the Front Range grew at a rate of over 30% in the past 10 years, while the 16 counties that saw declining population — three of which border Routt County — are generally more rural.

This trend can be seen in Routt County as well. The city of Steamboat Springs grew nearly 10% over the past decade, while Oak Creek’s population remained largely unchanged, Yampa’s declined by 7%, and the number of people living in unincorporated parts of the county dropped by 1.4%.

John Bristol, economic development director for the Steamboat Springs Chamber, said these numbers may also be an early indication of the affects of the transition away from coal-fired energy production.

“Some of the key employers, be it the Hayden Power Station and Twentymile Mine, how’s that going to impact some of these communities with the population changes that we’re already seeing right now,” Bristol said.

The town of Hayden was the exception, as it grew by 7.2%, adding about 130 new residents. Bristol said Hayden is a growing community and he expects it to continue growing in the coming years.

Communities are either increasing population or decreasing, there really isn’t an in between, Bristol said.

“Communities that are losing population, they struggle,” Bristol said. “They go into economic decline, and it can quickly become a declining spiral.”

Economically, it is better to be growing Bristol said, but how fast that growth is should be a community conversation. Between 2000 and 2010, Routt County grew by 18%, where this decade was less than a third of that.

“That plays a role into how you look at some of your policies,” Bristol said. “How are you looking at housing policy, how are you looking at child care issues?”

Increase in diversity

Routt County is the eighth whitest county in Colorado, and the whitest of any county in the state with more than 20,000 residents. Still, the share of the population that is white declined in the past decade — down about a half-percent — and the county is the most diverse it has ever been on the census.

People of color now represent more than 14% of the county’s population, compared to 9% in 2010.

Nelly Navarro, executive director of Integrated Community, said she believes this change is a combination of more people of color living in the county in addition to more filling out the census.

“We have seen that growth, but also, we really were actively having to educate people about completing the census,” Navarro said. “I think it is both the change in demographics, but also filling out the census.”

Routt County’s population of people that identify as Hispanic or Latino grew at the 14th fastest rate in the state, growing by nearly 40% over the past decade. This translates to an increase of about 600 residents in that group in the county.

The number of Hispanics and Latinos less than 18 year’s old in the county also increased by about 40% in the past decade.

Navarro said Integrated Community put a lot of emphasis in helping immigrant communities locally ensure they filled out the census and the increase in people of color locally is wonderful.

“I think the diversity has been there,” Navarro said. “We are really happy to see those numbers and reflect a more true reality of what we see at our office on a daily basis.”

The number of Black residents in Routt increased by nearly 70%, which represents the addition of about 60 more people. Residents identifying as two or more races increased by about 230% since 2010, an increase of nearly 600 people.

Navarro said as the population of people of color grows, they are going to need many of the same things that are short across the county like affordable housing and early childhood education. Diversity is important because it allows for a broader pool of experienced to try to solve some of these problems, Navarro said.

“It brings different perspectives to the table,” Navarro said. “When we are trying to solve problems or bring different things to the community, it’s so important to have different opinions.”

Growing older

The population of young people younger than 18 in Routt County declined by nearly 3% over the past decade, while the number of adults increased by about 8%, a sign the county is getting older. The decline represents 140 fewer minors in the county since 2010.

This is similar to trends on the state level, where the population of adults has grown by nearly 19%, where those younger than 18 had only increased by 3%.

Ford, an economist and former Steamboat Springs City Council member, said he has seen these age trends in the yearly iteration of the American Community Survey, which surveys about 3% of people across the country.

“We’re growing older, richer, faster,” Ford said. “The population moving in is more affluent, and what we have here is that the older group may have had children, but they are not here.”

Ford estimated that about 60% of the population growth in Routt County is due to people moving here, with the rest coming from a positive birth rate. These people are generally older, no longer raising children and often established financially.

“One of the key factors is that group can out-compete for housing,” Ford said, adding that this trend could be seen in older data, though the pandemic may have accelerated people moving to Routt County.

The census is a snapshot at a point in time rather than a real time count, so Ford said the data likely doesn’t include many of those people who moved to the Yampa Valley during the pandemic or the ongoing real estate boom. Even if they were missed, Ford emphasized that the data is still essential.

“There’s always a little what I call vibration in the number,” Ford said. “Pinpoint accuracy is not elusive, but it’s not as necessary as some people would like to think it is.”

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