The NCSL Blog


By Christi Zamarripa

For the last three censuses, the Census Bureau has selected a remote Alaska village to be the first community to be counted.

Toksook Bay, which overlooks the Bering Sea, was chosen this time because of its rural location and because the majority of residents are Alaska Native. Also, because the ground is still frozen: This traditional Yup’ik village can only be reached by dog sled, snowmobile or bush plane. 

Lizzie Chimiugak Nenguryarr (center), the first person counted for the 2020 census, joins in the Yup'ik dancing at the ceremony on Tuesday. Claire Harbage/NPRTo count people where they live, enumerators started knocking on doors on Jan. 21, before the spring thaw makes travel difficult. U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham flew into the village to help conduct the interview with the first person to be counted for the 2020 census, Lizzie Chimiugak Nenguryarr (pictured).

In 2010, Alaska Native populations were undercounted by about 8%. Counting people who live in hard-to-reach areas throughout the nation is a challenge. Generally, the hard-to-count groups tend to be children younger than 5, immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, rural residents, low-income people, homeless and Native Americans.

The Census Bureau issued a report that estimated an overcount of 0.01% nationwide for the 2010 census. Also, it provided the net overcounts and undercounts in the states.

In 2010, the Census Bureau estimated that 25.2% of people in Alaska did not self-respond to the census. The Census Bureau is trying to increase self-response rates by offering more options this cycle. For the 2020 census, responses can be made by mail, phone, internet and in-person.

Self-response will be available in 12 non-English languages for the phone and internet, while the census bureau has 59 non-English language guides. However, none of the guides cover the 20 Native languages in Alaska belonging to four distinct language families: Inuit-Yupik-Unangan, Athabaskan-Eyak-Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. This is one reason why the bureau is hiring local enumerators, to help bridge the communication gap.

Alaska cares about the census because the data is used for apportionment, redistricting and allocation of federal money. Based on the 2010 census data, Alaska received more than $3 billion from federal funds in fiscal year 2016. That equals $4,497.78 per Alaska resident, on average. Communicating to residents why the census is important and why it matters has been a focus not just for the bureau, but for states, local communities and other organizations.

If you are interested in your state’s census counts, self-response rate and federal funding, check out NCSL’s census state profiles. Each profile is a quick snapshot of valuable census information pertaining to the states, which includes:

  • What census data means for the state in terms of political and economic power.
  • Key demographic data for the state.
  • What the state is doing to encourage a full and complete count.

The 2020 census has started in Alaska, but for most of the nation it will start in March, when most households will get their census questionnaire in the mail. Before Census Day is upon us, check out your state’s profile on the census.

Christi Zamarripa is a policy associate with NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.