My turn: 2010 Census: Still time to make all Alaskans count

Posted: Sunday, April 18, 2010

The famous quote by Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra can be used to describe the 2010 Census: "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Alaska was ground zero for the 2010 Census, with the first U.S. resident counted on Jan. 25 from the Native village of Noorvik. And, although April 1 was Census Day and mail forms were due April 16, the 2010 Census is not over.

In fact, census operations will continue through July.

That's good news for Alaska, as only 57 percent of us have participated so far, compared to a national rate of 68 percent.

The Census Bureau hired and trained about 2,000 local Alaskans to assist with census operations. For Alaskans who do not receive mail at a home mailbox (including those using post office boxes), who live in remote areas or for households where a form wasn't returned, the census field workers will hand-deliver forms starting May 1 or take information in a personal interview.

Alaskans can also call the 2010 Census help line 866-872-6868 (toll-free) to provide data over the phone.

Every 10 years since 1790, the U.S. government has taken a constitutionally mandated census of our nation's population. The count is used to allocate congressional seats, electoral votes and more than $400 billion among the states every year.

The concept of counting residents dates to Biblical times and, according to historians, the first census in North America was in 1576, 200 years before American independence from the British.

Conducting a census in Alaska poses interesting challenges. The size of our state, scattered communities, difficult terrain, weather conditions, and the seasonality of Alaska residents require rigorous pre-planning and organization.

Since 1981, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development's Research and Analysis Section, which works closely with the U.S. Census Bureau, has played a key role in Alaska census planning. This department is the lead agency of the Census and Geographic Information Network, a group of 10 affiliate state agencies and local government planning offices. Research and Analysis, on its recently redesigned Web pages on the census, labor.alaska.gov/research/census, has local, state and national information and links for more information.

Over the last several years, the Alaska Department of Labor has worked tirelessly to ensure that Alaska's census maps are accurate and that all Alaska households are included in the Census Bureau's database.

The census is more than just a head count. The federal government uses census numbers each year to allocate funds for everything from job training, housing and community development to health care services.

Our state, local and tribal governments use census data for planning and allocating funds for new schools and roads as well as the location of police and fire departments. Community organizations use the numbers to develop social service and community action projects. Businesses use census numbers to decide where to locate retail centers, movie theaters, banks and offices - most often leading to new jobs.

Census data is used to set Alaska legislative election districts.

Many emergency systems are based on maps developed for the last census. Census information helps health providers predict the spread of diseases. And during floods, tornadoes or earthquakes, census numbers help rescuers determine how many people will need help.

Please stand up and be counted. It's not too late for you to help make "All Alaskans Count."

• Click Bishop is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.



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