Alaska Census counting comes to an early end, with a stark divide in rural and urban response rates

A woman in a green jacket and a blue and white shoulder bag knocks at a door
A census worker knocks on a door in Dillingham. Wednesday, September 2, 2020. (Isabelle Ross/KDLG)

Counting for the 2020 Census ends Thursday. That’s following a Supreme Court ruling earlier this week that allows the federal government to end the count two weeks early.

“The decision by the Supreme Court is really disappointing for all Alaskans,” said Gabe Layman, head of the Alaska Census Working Group. “The way in which the Census count was affected in Alaska was really significant, particularly in our most remote and rural communities. And the additional time to count individuals in those communities would have made a tremendous difference to our state.”

It has been a difficult year for the count to take place. The deadline has changed several times due to court rulings and the Census Bureau’s own guidance. And the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted outreach and in-person operations, which is a big deal for places like rural Alaska.

“In light of those challenges, it makes no sense whatsoever to terminate the census operations early,” said Layman. “If anything, the federal government should acknowledge those challenges and work exceptionally hard to do whatever it can to make up for them. And that means extending operations so they can be done thoughtfully, carefully and safely.”

Still, Layman says Alaska did surprisingly well. As it stands, the state has a 99.9% enumeration rate, but some have questioned the accuracy of that number.

In total, 54.6% of Alaska households self-responded. Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau all saw increases in the self-response rate from 2010. Overall, the state saw about a 1% decline in self-responses from 2010. Compared to other, similar, states Layman said that’s pretty good. Still, he said these numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“What we’re looking at here, is really a tale of two Alaskas,” said Layman. “When you compare how different localities performed across the state performed in this decennial census, what we see is that urban Alaska did surprisingly well. But rural and remote Alaska did not perform well at all.”

Layman said places like Prince of Whales Island, Kotzebue and Unalaska all saw significant declines in self-response rates from 2010.

Layman says it will be critical for the Census Bureau to evaluate the undercount in those parts of the state.

Layman encouraged any Alaskans who haven’t yet filled out their census to do so by the end of the day today.