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Census-takers making rounds, handing out forms on Peninsula

Time to stand up and be counted

Posted: Friday, March 24, 2000

Uncle Sam wants you ... to fill out your census form and mail it in. Census 2000 is under way on the Kenai Peninsula.

"We encourage people to view it as a civic responsibility," said Chuck McGee, the local census office manager for Alaska.

By now, everyone in the borough should have received a census form either in the mail or on their doors. Distribution here began March 1, and the first results are trickling in, he said.

The Census Bureau sent forms to households, rather than to individuals, and mailed them only to street addresses, never to post office boxes. In Kenai and Soldotna, forms were mailed to houses with home delivery. Other homes and outlying areas got theirs delivered by hand or left in plastic bags hooked over doorknobs.

Based on preliminary surveys last spring to verify addresses, the census has sent forms to 23,714 housing units on the peninsula.

McGee said he knows his workers are out doing their jobs, because he has heard from people complaining that census workers showed up on their doorsteps despite "no trespassing" signs.

The census is for everyone, he stressed, even the most private.

"The reason it is important is so we all have an equal voice in Congress and, secondly, so we all get our fair share of federal dollars,"he said.

Anyone who has not received a form by now should call the Alaska census office collect at (907) 271-1300 or 271-1280.

Next week, census workers begin the tricky phase of counting people in what they call "special places" -- unconventional residences in institutions, military compounds and on boats. The effort will include soup kitchens and attempt to locate everyone living in cars or on the streets.

People who fail to send in completed forms by the end of the first week in April will receive a follow-up visit from census canvassers.

On April 11, the Alaska office will get a printout of addresses that have not replied, McGee said.

McGee anticipates about half of households will be on that list.

Next month the census moves into its most labor-intensive phase, with workers going door to door until they find and interview residents who have not responded by mail. They even visit the most remote and isolated places, using snowshoes or helicopters when necessary.

Canvassers plan to finish in mid June, he said.

The federal census, which comes along once every 10 years, offers a boost to people seeking temporary work in the area.

The Census Bureau plans to employ 810 census workers on the Kenai Peninsula. A few positions remain open. Preference is given to people who live in the neighborhoods they will canvass, McGee said.

This year's forms differ somewhat from those used in the 1990 census.

The short form should take about 10 minutes for the average household to complete and is the shortest it has been in 180 years, according to Census Bureau information.

Every sixth household will receive a long form, asking questions about origins, race, education, employment and housing. This year, respondents will have more options in defining their race, being able to chose mixed-race categories for the first time.

The census was established by the founding fathers of the United States and is required under the Constitution.

The information helps update district boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives.

It also provides a wealth of demographic information used to distribute public spending for services such as roads, education and health care.

McGee estimated that every person counted on the peninsula in 1990 brought about $1,700 of federal government funding to the area.

Answering the census questions even can save lives.

"When Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1991, Census Bureau officials were able to aid the rescue effort by providing estimates of the total number of people in each block," according to a bureau publication.

The information collected by census workers is confidential. By law, the bureau cannot share individual records with any other government agency, even law enforcement, until 72 years after it is compiled.

General statistics from the census will go to the state on April 15, 2001, for use in planning reapportionment.

Complete census information will be published in 2002, McGee said.



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