U.S. Census officials are sounding the alarm about a low rate of response in Alaska, despite having started the once-a-decade tally of everyone living in the United States in an Alaska village. But they say that the lack of response might not be due to the usual difficulties of counting Alaska's remote communities, or the new challenge of the pandemic.
They just need Alaskans to talk to them.
The census kicked off in January with in-person counting in the Western Alaska village of Toksook Bay. But so far during the 2020 Census, Alaska ranks last among all states in what's called "self-response." Those are responses given online, by mail, or by phone. As of Aug. 4, Alaska's rate is 49.5%, while the overall national rate of self-response is 63%.
“Some people are fearful or not trusting of the government. Some people just aren't aware of the census or don't think it applies to them,” said Donald Benz, a spokesperson for the U.S. Census Bureau, which is making an extra push to reach more Alaskans. Benz said that the bureau is trying to remind people that the census is safe, easy, and important. The count has implications for things like federal spending and the number of representatives a state has in Congress.
According to a U.S. Census Bureau map, there have been low rates of self-response in pretty much every region of Alaska, though the rate was better in Juneau and Anchorage, which were about at the national average, and to a lesser extent, in Fairbanks. Alaska communities with higher rates of self-response also tended to have higher rates of responses given online.
Benz said that enumerators are now beginning the final count of anyone they've missed so far. On Aug. 3, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it would wrap up its counting work a month early this year, on Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 31, and would hire more enumerators to get the job done quicker.
For anyone worried about census workers spreading coronavirus, Benz said that the enumerators are following enhanced hygiene protocols. And he said that the door-to-door counting will be done in Alaska by people hired locally and considered "essential" workers.
“It's not like we're going to be shipping people from California to Alaska to get this count. We're hiring local people from the community,” Benz said.
For now, Alaska's response rate remains about 5% lower than in 2010.
More information about the census is available at 2020census.gov.