Estimate: Census didn't find 15,000 Alaskans

Posted: Sunday, December 08, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Census Bureau estimate of the number of people missed in the 2000 census indicates 15,000 Alaskans weren't counted, the largest percentage undercount of any state.

But both the federal agency and the state demographer say the number may not mean much.

''The problem is, the whole adjustment procedure doesn't work in Alaska very well, partly because there wasn't an adjustment survey done in rural areas,'' said Greg Williams, the state demographer.

The adjustment would add 2.4 percent to Alaska's official 2000 census total of 626,932 residents, bringing the total population to just over 642,000.

The political ramifications would likely be minimal in Alaska. State and local lawmakers in some parts of the U.S. could use the numbers to allocate government dollars or lobby for more federal money.

The Census Bureau last year decided the unadjusted numbers would be used for congressional redistricting and federal allocations.

The agency had not planned to release the adjusted data, which uses statistical sampling to calculate how many people were missed by the national head count. Census officials say the figures are flawed and ''dramatically overestimate'' the number of people they missed.

But that decision was criticized by Democrats and others who said that minorities and children were most likely to be missed.

Then two Oregon state senators, both Democrats, filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the adjusted population figures. In October, a federal appeals court ordered the government to release the data.

''The bureau's bottom-line conclusion was that if they adjusted, they'd be over-adjusting,'' says Williams, the state demographer. ''The Census Bureau, I think, made a very honest effort not to make that decision a political decision.''

But in Alaska, the only sampling done was in urban areas, not in the remote Alaska Bush.

''They made that decision based on cost, probably, and they made a lot of effort to send their best enumerators to rural Alaska (for the actual census) so they wouldn't have mistakes in the first place,'' Williams said. Adjustments for Bush areas are minor in the new figures.

Looking at the revised numbers, the biggest potential adjustments would be in State Senate Districts B, H, N, and O.

District N had the largest estimated undercount, 1,177 people. That district covers parts of south Anchorage. District H, in Chugiak and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, had an estimated undercount of 1,073. District O, with a potential adjustment of 950, is another south Anchorage area, and District B, with 945 people presumed uncounted, is in Juneau. The bulk of those adjustments involve adding more whites to the numbers.

The adjustment for the big Senate District C, which stretches from Southeast Alaska to the Interior villages, would be 734 people, 426 of them whites and 189 Alaska Natives. District T, the Bering Straits and Arctic regions, would have an adjustment of just 364 people, 190 of them Natives.

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