By Melinda Munson
Skagway likes to win. Team Alaska, an ice carving group based in town, won the people’s choice and juried competition at January’s World Snow Festival in Switzerland. Skagway School consistently places in the top one percent of the state for overall test scores. There is, however, an area in which Skagway lags. The 2020 census.
Held once every 10 years, the census collects information used to allocate an estimated $1.5 trillion a year in federal funds to state and local governments, nonprofits, businesses and households. The money helps fund resources such as hospitals and emergency services. The data is also used to determine political boundaries in state legislatures.
Out of 19 Southeast Alaska communities, Skagway currently sits in 16th place with a census participation rate of 4.1%.
“As the country’s largest and least populated state, Alaska has one of the hardest populations to count … an undercount of Alaskans means our state fails to receive its fair share of federal resources,” Alaska Counts stated on its website. Alaska Counts is a non-partisan coalition, created by the Alaska nonprofit support organization the Foraker Group, which aims to educate Alaskans about the 2020 census.
According to Alaska Counts, in 2010, Alaska had the lowest census participation rate in the county at 64%.
“A similar undercount of our state in 2020 means Alaska will not receive its full share of federal funding for the following 10 years,” Alaska Counts said.
Skagway has some unique challenges when it comes to the census. It’s a town where street addresses are often ignored in favor of descriptions: the green house with the pink garage or the new modular on 8th. In 2019, Skagway’s buildings were re-numbered in an update to aid emergency services. This means some residents might not even know their legal house address.
Kaitlyn Jared, executive director of Skagway Development Corp., warned Skagwegians not to expect a letter from the Census Bureau with an invitation to participate and an accompanying code, called a Census ID.
“People should not expect to see a code in the mail,” she said. Jared explained that invitation letters are only sent to physical addresses. Both Skagway and Dyea rely on post office boxes and street delivery is not an option.
“It’s best to get online and bypass the code,” Jared said. Residents can report their household information at www.my2020census.gov. Those without codes can start the questionnaire. Below the ID field is a link that says: “If you do not have a Census ID, click here.”
Participants who complete the census online should finish their entry in one sitting, as there is no way to save the form. Jared reminded filers that the questions pertain to April 1, National Census Day. This means answers should reflect an individual’s situation as it was on the first of April, not the day they are filling out the form.
Residents who don’t have online access can complete the census via telephone by calling 844-330-2020. There is an option to request a callback instead of waiting on hold.
Due to COVID-19, the Census Bureau suspended all field data activities in March. As a result, Skagway workers who would have been hired by the bureau to canvas neighborhoods have been placed on hold. The Census Bureau said it plans to reopen field offices “as quickly as possible following June 1.”
By law, the Census Bureau is required to deliver the count to the country’s president on Dec. 31, 2020. The bureau said it plans to seek congressional approval to extend the deadline to April 30, 2021.
The 2020 census does not have a citizenship question. President Donald Trump’s push to include a question inquiring about a respondent’s citizenship status was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2019. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the “question appears to be contrived.” He added that executive branch members should “offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public.” Many advocates feared a citizenship question would dampen participation from non-U.S. citizens.
Information gathered in the census is confidential and census workers swear an oath to protect private data. It is a felony to improperly disclose such information, punishable by a $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison.
By law, the Census Bureau cannot share a person’s information with immigration enforcement, law enforcement agencies or government benefit programs. Landlords and employers do not have access to census responses.
As of April 13, 48% of households across the United States responded to the census. Jared hopes that more Skagway residents will take the time to fill out the census. Residents who don’t know their physical addresses should ask their landlords or contact the municipality.