Census wraps up count

Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2000

The Kenai Peninsula count is in its final days.

Census 2000 field workers are finishing their task this week, said Chuck McGee, the census office manager for Alaska.

"We are hoping to have this operation complete by Monday," he said.

The main door-to-door project, contacting houses that did not mail back forms, was completed earlier.

"By now, everyone's house should have been visited," he said.

Census enumerators, the workers who help count people, have been visiting homes since the end of April. The work has been interesting and challenging, with a few cases of eccentric residents and dog bites, said Connie Wheat, the peninsula's field operations supervisor.

One peninsula enumerator arrived at a house to interview a person only to discover Alaska State Troopers removing the subject in a body bag. The enumerator had to get the information from neighbors instead.

"That was quite startling," Wheat said.

For the past two weeks enumerators have been checking on questionable homes that had been listed previously as under construction, vacant or being removed to verify that they were uninhabited or should indeed be deleted from the lists.

"We had 3,428 housing units that we had to go to (in the borough)," McGee said.

The enumerators also are checking any areas where they felt they may have missed people and following up on phone inquiries.

"It is just a method of double-checking and cross-checking," he said.

Wheat reported Wednesday morning that at least 81 percent of the units had been checked for this phase.

"We had the most follow-up cases in the state," she said.

The Kenai Peninsula had an unusually high count of vacant buildings, which she attributed to large numbers of seasonal vacation homes.

Some work will remain for the enumerators after this.

"I just learned today we have one more little cleanup operation," Wheat said Wednesday. "The big push is going to be done."

Tuesday, plans will be made for the next phase.

McGee described it as an effort to verify information for about 3,500 Alaskans who filled out alternative forms through Be Counted-Questionnaire Assistance Centers that were open in the spring or contacted the census office to report they had made mistakes.

He cited the example of a woman who phoned to say she had zipped through the forms and mailed them off -- only to realize later she had left her husband off the family list.

Wheat estimated that the next phase of double-checking will require only 10 to 20 peninsula workers, down from 150 enumerators at the peak of the project.

The Alaska census office will close at the end of August, they said.

After that, an independent commission will make inquiries to spot-check census information and estimate error rates. That information is essential before analysts can compile the final figures, McGee said.

Accuracy is especially important for Alaskans now, he said, as state spending declines and federal aid becomes more important to communities.

The national count will be given to the president on Dec. 31. Regional information will be presented to states April 15. Full data sets will be available to the public in 2001, but details about individuals remain secret for 72 years.

The census is required every 10 years by the U. S. Constitution.

The federal government estimates that the 1990 census was 98 percent accurate. This year, the Census Bureau wants to do better.

"At this point we feel we have a complete and accurate count," McGee said. "We are in the very final stages."

Anyone who thinks they have not been counted should phone the Anchorage census office collect at (907) 271-1280.

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