Y-K Delta Population Grew About 9% In Past Decade, According To US Census
The U.S. Census released its first batch of 2020 data last week. The national head count occurs every 10 years and shows a growing population in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, driven by high birth rates. The 2020 census began in the region last year in Toksook Bay.
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has two census areas: the Bethel Census Area along the Kuskokwim River, and the Kusilvak Census Area along the lower Yukon River.
The population of both has grown by about 9% over the past decade. The Bethel Census Area totals 18,666, compared to 17,013 in 2010. The Kusilvak Census Area totals 8,368, compared to 7,459 in 2010. In the city of Bethel, the population has grown by 3.9% to over 6,325, compared to 6,080 in 2010.
The region is growing faster than most areas of the state. The Bethel Census Area is the fourth fastest growing area of Alaska and the Kusilvak Census Area is the sixth. Alaska State Demographer David Howell said that the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta’s population growth is largely driven by a high birth rate.
“These areas of the state are just continually driven by what we refer to as natural increase, where your births outnumber your deaths,” Howell said.
That’s the opposite of what’s happened in the state overall and in much of the lower 48.
“The country and Alaska have both had this shift in birth rates in the last decade. It happened in the 2000s for the U.S. as a whole, and then after about 2015 in Alaska. We’ve really seen this decline in birth rates,” Howell said.
Over time, that leads to population decline as more people die than are born, a phenomenon not occurring in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
The ethnic makeup of the region did not change much over the past decade. The vast majority of people in the region identify as Alaska Native or American Indian. Eighty-four percent of people in the Bethel Census Area identify as Alaska Native or American Indian, compared to 95% of people in the Kusilvak Census Area.
In 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau will release more detailed population data covering age, race, and sex.
Correction: A previous version of this story said that the City of Bethel's population grew by 9.6% since 2010. That is incorrect. It grew by 3.9%.