Uncounted residents may cost Juneau

Census workers hustle to get forms filled out this weekend

Posted: Friday, May 26, 2000

The U.S. Census Bureau is making a final push to count the people in about 700 Juneau households who haven't filled out their forms.

An undercount could cost Juneau $1,600 to $1,800 a year in federal funds for each person missed, said Faye Amos, the Census Bureau manager for Alaska, Idaho, eastern Washington and Seattle.

``It's vital that Juneau get counted correctly,'' Mayor Dennis Egan said Thursday at an informational meeting at city hall. ``When Juneau was undercounted by 3,300 in 1990 it seriously jeopardized a lot of funding we get.''

Of Juneau's 12,186 housing units, 6,426 had responded by mail by the mid-April deadline. Some people who use post office boxes never got a form because the Census Bureau doesn't mail forms to boxes, and workers didn't always know to deliver them in person, officials said.

Since late April, census takers going to homes have counted most of the people who hadn't mailed back forms, but about 700 households still haven't responded, officials said.

About 50 workers will make a big push this weekend and through the following week to reach them, said Chuck McGee, who heads the Anchorage Census office.

Some of those holdouts haven't been home. But others refuse to respond. The Census Bureau will be persistent but not rude or threatening, Amos said.

``We're down to the really hard ones,'' some of whom feel harassed, Amos said. ``We are tenacious. We're going back and we're going back because we want the information.''

Eric Magnusson, a Census Bureau official in Juneau who has been assigned the hard cases, said there are surprisingly few people who are adamantly refusing to answer the census questions.

Magnusson said some people don't trust the government. They tend to be concerned about the information's confidentiality, or they're unsure how the government uses the figures, he said.

The census questions aren't that intrusive, McGee said. They ask for less information than what people routinely fill out for mortgages or credit cards, and the form doesn't include Social Security numbers, he said.

The information is confidential for 72 years, the average life span, McGee said. And what's available then is only basic information like name, address and age. The detailed personal information on the long form, which one of six households gets, isn't ever made public.

Mayor Egan said the census is being done much better this time. Officials attribute that partly to national advertising campaigns and the publicity efforts of local ``Complete Count'' committees.

In Juneau, the city and social service agencies helped officials know where to find the homeless and transients. The committee publicized the census through posters around town, on buses and at harbors, and through notices in utility bills.

In mid-July, the Census Bureau also will check new construction or homes that were apparently vacant. And for several months officials will check random samples of respondents to see that the information taken before was accurate.

Anyone who wasn't counted can call the Census Bureau in Anchorage collect at (907) 271-1300 to be included.

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