Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Census on track to count more than 99% of households nationwide, bureau says


September 24, 2020

As of Sept. 20, 10 days before the deadline for census response, 97% of Alaskan households had been counted compared to Haines’ 32% response rate, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

In Haines, an undercount of just 1% of the population would result in a loss of $744,000 over 10 years, according to Census Bureau statistics. This year’s census is particularly critical because the result could determine distribution of future federal COVID-19 recovery funds.

Fifty-four percent of households in the state responded on their own by completing the census questionnaire online, over the phone or via email. Forty-three percent were counted by a census worker.

A breakdown of the Haines Borough household count is unavailable, according to bureau spokesperson Jeanette Durán Pacheco. As of Sept. 20, Haines’ self-response rate, 32%, was well below the state and national averages.

The total percentage of households counted in the Chilkat Valley is higher, Durán Pacheco said, as the self-response rate doesn’t include households counted by census enumerators.

The bureau’s goal is to count 100% of the nation’s population by the Sept. 30 deadline, Durán Pacheco said. However, this goal is something the bureau traditionally falls short of.

In each census for the last 50 years, the bureau has used a statistical method known as “imputation” to fill in data for households that go uncounted, Durán Pacheco said. Usually, the number of houses that go uncounted is small, less than 1% of the population.

Imputation involves substituting missing data with estimated data. In the case of missing census information, the bureau will first resort to past census responses to fill in missing information.

“For example, if a person reported their date of birth, we can fill in their missing age. If the date of birth is missing too, we can use what they reported on the 2010 census,” Durán Pacheco said.

The bureau also uses information about other household members to fill in missing information.

“If race is reported for a parent, we could use that information to fill in their child’s missing race,” Durán Pacheco said.

As a last resort, the bureau uses information gathered from similar households in the area to fill in missing household information.

Anticipating coronavirus-related complications, the bureau extended the census response deadline from July to Oct. 31 to give people more time. But in mid-summer, it moved the deadline up by a month.

At the time the change was announced, some voiced concern that a shortened time frame would mean fewer households would get counted, particularly households in rural and economically disadvantaged communities, which run a higher risk of being undercounted in a normal census year. Fewer households counted would require heavier reliance on imputation to complete the count.

“The end result would be (overrepresentation) for the White non-Hispanic population and greater undercounts for all other populations including the traditionally hard-to-count,” former Census Bureau director John Thompson said in written testimony submitted to the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Durán Pacheco said these concerns are unfounded.

“We are on track with the census count and, like other years, expect to only have to use imputation as a last resort for less than one percent of the total resident population,” she said.

Self-response is still an option for Chilkat Valley residents, up until the Sept. 30 deadline, Durán Pacheco said.

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’s conducted once every 10 years.


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