Juneau hopes to correct count in this year's census

Posted: Wednesday, March 01, 2000

Juneau was undercounted in the last 10-year census by 3,000 people, the city believes, and it wants to change that in the 2000 census.

The city has formed a Complete Count Committee to urge residents to fill out the census questionnaires most residents are receiving in the mail. A community or state's population helps determine its representation in the Legislature and its share of some federal funds.

The Census Bureau estimates about $180 billion a year in federal funds is distributed based partly on its figures.

The city and state estimated Juneau's population at 29,881 in 1990, but the Census Bureau counted only 26,751 people, said Brad Marshall, a city planner on the Complete Count Committee.

``We are recognizing, as state and local budgets continue to get smaller, we have to ensure

that we get as much federal money as we have coming to us with a higher population count,'' he said.

The Census Bureau is mailing questionnaires to about 94 million households, and some have already arrived in Juneau.

The agency will drop off questionnaires at about 24 million households nationwide, including Juneau residents whose mailing address is a postal box, and people in mid-sized Southeast towns such as Hoonah and Skagway.

Initially, about 500,000 remote households nationwide will be counted the old-fashioned way - in person at the door. That will include about 240 villages in Alaska's Bush - where the nation's count began in Unalakleet in late January - and small Southeast communities such as Pelican.

But the Census Bureau expects to visit about 46 million households that didn't mail back the questionnaires. It will require an army of several hundred thousand temporary workers, including 1,000 in Alaska, officials said.

The Census Bureau is still qualifying potential workers, who will be paid $18.75 an hour in Alaska. Employees typically work 40 hours a week for six to eight weeks, said Deputy Regional Director Michael Burns.

In Juneau, the agency has found 242 qualified people so far, said Chuck McGee, who's in charge of the Census Bureau in Alaska. The agency will hire about 100 people in Juneau, he said.

The bureau tries to hire locally. That was an issue for governments and tribal councils in small Southeast communities, said Eric Morrison, the partnership specialist for the area.

The Douglas Indian Association wants to be sure people hired to go door-to-door represent a cross-section of the community, said Tribal Administrator Evelyn Myers.

``Hard-to-reach people are best reached by people who are most familiar with those particular areas,'' said Tony Vaska, a Census Bureau partnership specialist.

There could be a lot of walking around to do in Alaska. The state had the worst mail-back rate in the 1990 census, at 50 percent, compared with 65 percent nationally, census officials said.

Whatever they do, officials admit there's likely to be an undercount.

The 1990 census undercounted by an estimated 4 million people, or about 1.6 percent of the population. Alaska was undercounted by an estimated 11,000 people, or 2 percent of the population.

Traditionally, minorities are over-represented in the people not counted.

American Indians were undercounted in 1990 by 12.2 percent, African-Americans by 6.8 percent, and Hispanics by 6.2 percent, Vaska said.

To encourage minority responses, the Census Bureau will supply interpreters in towns, if needed. Census questionnaires are available in Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog and Chinese.

Tribal councils will be consulted after the count, Vaska said. ``They review the numbers to see whether they're accurate, whether we've gone every place we're supposed to go,'' he said.

It may be harder to get an accurate count of Natives in cities such as Juneau than in villages, said Corrine Garza, chief of business operations at Tlingit-Haida Central Council.

She is supervising a Nativesponsored population count of Southeast Natives that began in December 1998 and is still being compiled.

``Actually, the villages are really easy,'' Garza said. ``For us it was easy because you have 400 or 500 people, or 800 people, who live in one spot. You just go up and down the street knocking on doors.''

But Natives don't live in one area in cities ``so you have to work harder to identify them,'' she said.

People interested in working for the census may call collect at (907) 271-1281.

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