Just a short month ago, we celebrated the birth of our Lord, born in a manger in a town where his parents traveled to be counted. This counting, or census taking, has long been a part of our human experience. The only change over the centuries is that we don’t have to travel to be counted.
On January 21st, the United States Census began nationwide in Toksook Bay, Alaska. The census is done once every 10 years and has direct ramifications on every one of us living in Alaska. Why is it important to be counted? Our communities depend on it! Census data is used to divide state legislative districts and local political boundaries to ensure all people are equally represented. The data also serves as the basis for distributing federal dollars annually to states, boroughs, and communities.
In a statement released by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, Bishop Frank Dewane stated: “Our country conducts a census every 10 years to count the number of men, women and children residing in the United States. Census data helps direct more than $800 billion annually to key programs designed to advance the common good, strengthen families and reduce poverty. The Catholic Church and other service providers rely on the national census to provide an accurate count in order to effectively serve those in need.” Some of the programs impacted include Medicaid, federal student loans, grants to Title 1 schools, low income housing support, food and nutrition programs for families, community development block grants and federal highway funds.
In 2010, Alaska had the lowest participation rate in the country—64% response. Over one-third of Alaskans DID NOT respond by submitting their census information. You don’t have to be a citizen or registered to vote or even an adult. Everybody counts. If YOU do not respond, Alaska will not receive its full share of federal funding for the following 10 years. In the face of increasing state and local budget constraints, we cannot afford to be underfunded for 10 long years. When Alaskans go uncounted, we all lose out!
So how do we get the job done? Depending on where you live in Alaska, the “count” will happen in one of three ways:
• In remote areas of Alaska, a census taker will come to your door. Census takers are typically local residents hired by the federal government to go door to door asking basic questions to count the number of residents living in a community. The census encourages you to fill out the survey with the census taker at that moment.
• A census taker visits your home and leaves a paper survey and information on how to respond by mail, online or by phone. Filling out the survey online or over the phone won’t be an option until March.
• For Alaska’s larger cities, the Census Bureau will reach many households by mail, including those in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau. These households will be invited to respond to the census online or by phone. If no response is provided, a second mailing will happen followed up by someone coming to your door. If English is not your first language the online and phone methods offer several different language options.
No matter which way you are counted, it is important to be counted. Your personal information is encrypted and cannot be shared with any other agency ever. Here is what you can expect to be asked. The standard questions asked of every person living in the United States are:
• Number of people residing at their address.
• Name, gender, age (including date of birth), and race/ethnicity of each person living at that residence.
• If residents own or rent.
• A phone number in case there is a need to follow up on a resident’s responses for any reason.
The Census asks for less information than you are required to provide to the State when you fill out your annual Permanent Fund Dividend application. It takes about 10 minutes and impacts our state for 10 years. Businesses make census data-driven decisions that grow the economy. Federal funding Alaska receives ensures our roads and infrastructure are maintained, public services are provided to children, veterans, seniors and families, students are able to attend college and local community needs are met. Please fill out and submit your census form. Alaska is counting on you.