ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Blame it on procrastination, forgetfulness or mistrust of the federal government.
With a week left before the deadline to return Census 2000 questionnaires, Alaska's response rate is, once again, the lowest among the 50 states.
''At least we're ahead of Puerto Rico,'' said Tony Vaska of the U.S. Census Bureau office in Anchorage.
As of Tuesday, 42 percent of Alaskans had mailed back their census forms. Only the territory of Puerto Rico had a lower response rate -- 33 percent. Ohio led the nation with a 62 percent response rate.
Census Bureau officials were hoping for a better showing from Alaskans than they got 10 years ago, when the state had the distinction of having the worst response rate in the nation -- 52 percent compared with 65 percent nationally.
Census forms are due back April 11, so Alaska has a week to bring up its numbers, Vaska said.
''We're doing everything we can to improve it,'' he said.
After April 11, census workers will go door-to-door to hunt down those who haven't mail back their forms in an effort to make sure everyone eventually gets counted.
So far, the response rate varies widely around the state -- anywhere from 31 percent in Bethel to 61 percent in Anchorage's Hillside neighborhood, Vaska said.
In rural villages, the Census Bureau didn't mail out census forms. Instead, enumerators have done a house-to-house head count, so rural Alaska is already well ahead of the rest of the state. Census workers have completed the count in 170 villages and the rural count is expected to be wrapped up by the end of next week.
Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the rural hubs of Bethel, Kotzebue, Dillingham, Unalaska, Cold Bay, Valdez and Cordova are those with the lowest mail-in response rates, while the response from Southeast has been good, Vaska said.
Most families have received the basic short form, with just seven questions. One in six homes has received a long form that seeks more detailed, personal information.
''Some people feel uncomfortable filling it out. But the questions we ask are less than what the credit card companies ask when you apply for a credit card,'' said Vaska.
The 52 questions on the long form ask, among other things, if the respondent has any physical, mental or emotional conditions that cause difficulty remembering; what time they leave their home for work; their annual salary; how much they pay annually for electricity and whether their home has complete plumbing facilities.
Census officials say the information is needed to determine federal funding for social service programs, highways and housing.
Wayne Johnson, an Anchorage pipe salesman, says he filled the long form out ''after a fashion,'' ignoring the questions he felt the government shouldn't ask.
''How I spend my money. How I spend my time. There were mental health questions. All of that was terribly inappropriate,'' said Johnson. ''An awful lot of what the government does, I don't think the government should be doing. They shouldn't be spending money for special programs anyway.''
Those who don't fill out the form completely could face a $100 fine.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley says he's heard complaints about the long form. With the peninsula's response rate at 37 percent, Bagley has invited census officials to address the borough assembly on the importance of a complete count.
''Assembly members can go back to their districts and counter some of the rumors about the long form,'' Bagley said.
''We passed a resolution last year in support of the census,'' he said. ''It has a lot to do with our funding from the federal government, redistricting for Legislative races and even Assembly seats.''
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