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State, feds gear up for census: Officials plan dress rehearsals in selected areas for 2010 count

Posted: Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Barely had the 2000 count been completed when U.S. Census Bureau officials began planning how to count folks living in the far-flung locales of Alaska in 2010.

In an article in the latest issue of Alaska Economic Trends, Jack Cannon, research analyst with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said that by the time census workers actually begin collecting data in early 2010, addresses will have been updated, questionnaires tested, and dress rehearsals in selected areas will have been conducted.

Residents in Alaska's major cities of Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau will get forms in the mail to be filled out and returned.

In areas with nonstandard mailing addresses, census-takers will physically locate the address and update information, and leave a mail-back form to be completed by the resident. This method will be used in Anchorage where appropriate, as well as in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the eastern part of the Kenai Peninsula, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and in towns and hub cities in the Bush, Cannon said.

In some areas, such as the 217 Alaska Native villages and in rural areas of Southeast Alaska, census workers will do the counting on the spot, he said.

A yet-to-be named Alaska community will have the honor of being the first location to be counted in the nation. The count is to start in the third week of January 2010, most likely in a community in Southeast, giving census workers a chance to count remote areas before breakup. According to Cannon, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Murdock will visit Alaska personally to count the first people for the census.

Cannon noted that counting folks living in remote regions of the state would present the biggest challenge to enumerating the population accurately.

"The bureau will hire and train most enumerators - those who do the counting - in their home communities," Cannon said, adding that census officials would meet with community leaders to gain their support for the decennial count.

Cannon outlined some differences between the coming census and that of 2000.

"The main difference ... is that Census 2010 will be a 'short-form only' census," he said. "The short-form questionnaire is used to get an actual count of the population and collects basic information from every person living in the United States, including name, sex, age, date of birth, race, ethnicity, relationship to the person who owns or rents the residence and whether the housing unit is owned or rented."

The long-form, used to collect detailed socioeconomic data, will not be used, Cannon said.

Some data collected in the census will become public. The earliest to be released (April 1, 2011) is called the redistricting file, which includes information about race and whether people are of Hispanic origin, Cannon said. Other details would be released at later dates.

In an interview Tuesday, Cannon said census data is used, first off, for redistricting purposes. But it also serves a variety of other purposes for which population numbers and other demographic information is needed, such as establishing poverty levels, for justifying grant proposals, for city and borough planning, and to provide a benchmark against which to measure historical change.

Cannon said that according to state demographers, nothing unusual is anticipated to come from the 2010 numbers. They expect the new figures will demonstrate the continued relatively strong growth of Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough.

As for the Kenai Peninsula, projections show the 51,350 residents estimated in 2006 could grow to as high as 55,530 in 2010, and to 63,180 by 2020.

Statewide there were some 670,000 Alaskans in 2006. The population is expected to be over 698,500 in 2010, and reach 771,500 by 2020.

To conduct the census, the bureau will hire hundreds of Alaskans to fill temporary jobs, and hiring already has begun.

Office jobs will see pay ranging from $13.25 per hour for office and technical support clerks to $18 an hour for office operations supervisors.

Field staff will also be needed to canvass addresses. Pay for those jobs will range from $17.50 an hour for crew leader assistants to $19 an hour for crew leaders and $20.50 an hour for field operating supervisors.

For job application information, call the Census Bureau at (866) 861-2010 or contact one of the Alaska Department of Labor's 23 job centers.

Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net



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