Census resumes field operations in Alaska


May 7, 2020

The bad news is that, as of Tuesday, Haines’ census response rate was 12.5%, roughly 20% below the state average and 40% below the national average. The good news is that this is likely to change now that the census is resuming field operations in Alaska.

The census, mandated by the U.S. Constitution, is a population count of everyone living in the United States that is used to determine congressional representation, redistricting and how federal and state funds are distributed. It is conducted once every 10 years.

Haines’ abysmal response rate is tied to the suspension of census field operations due to COVID-19. Because of the suspension, “we did not get our individual census forms,” said Haines Economic Development Corporation executive director Margaret Friedenauer, who is helping with local outreach.

In most communities, residents are mailed invitations to respond to the census. Since Haines residents have mailing addresses distinct from their physical addresses, census workers rely on a process called “Update Leave” to distribute invitations to individual households. During Update Leave, workers deposit paper questionnaires at front doors, giving residents the option of responding via mail, online or over the phone.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that field operations in Alaska will begin again on May 6. Field operations originally began on March 15 before being suspended three days later amid COVID-19 concerns.

Starting this week, five enumerators will begin distributing questionnaires to households in Haines, said census western regional director Jeff Enos. All five census workers are local hires and have been trained in COVID-19 safety precautions, Enos said. Leaving questionnaires on doorsteps will not involve person-to-person contact. He estimated it will take three to four weeks to distribute the questionnaires throughout the community.

An accurate census count ensures Haines receives its fair share of state and federal resources.

In Haines, an undercount of just 1 percent of the population would result in a loss of $744,000 over 10 years, according to Census Bureau statistics.

“There is no greater economic development tool than getting an accurate count in the census,” Friedenauer said.

In past census years, roughly half the population of Haines has elected to self-respond. The other half has been counted through the in-person follow up process.

Enos said the Census Bureau is advocating for a high self-response rate to reduce the need for workers to go door-to-door during the follow up phase.

On April 27, the Census Bureau released a revised operations schedule. The deadline for self-response has been extended from July 31 to Oct. 31. Follow up with households that have not responded begins Aug. 11 instead of May 13.

Although residents have not received physical copies of the questionnaires, they currently have the option of responding online or over-the-phone. Those wishing to complete the census online can go to my2020census.gov and select the “If you do not have a Census ID” option. To call in, phone 844-330-2020. Lines are open between 3 a.m. and 10 p.m. Alaska time.


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