Alaska lags far behind rest of country on Census response

Virus or not, the U.S. Census is underway. Americans are going online, on the phone and to the mailbox to complete the once-a-decade questionnaire. But so far, Alaska has the lowest response rate of any state in the union.

As of Friday, 26.7% of Alaska households have filled out their Census form, well below the national rate of 42.8%.

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Alaska’s sluggish response rate is alarming but understandable, said Cook Inlet Housing Authority Chief Operating Officer Gabe Layman. He’s one of the people behind the Alaska Counts campaign to improve the state’s Census results. Layman said many Alaskans have been waiting for a knock on their door.

Gabe Layman is COO of Cook Inlet Housing Authority (CIHA)

“People in remote Alaska were not notified that they could respond online, because it was anticipated that a Census-taker would be going to every single household,” he said.

That door-to-door work is on hold now, to avoid spreading the coronavirus. But Layman said, you don’t need to wait for anything. 

“We’re very hopeful that as the word gets out that people in remote Alaska and other parts of the state can self-respond, either online at or by phone at 1-844-330-2020, that they’ll take the opportunity to do so,” he said.

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If you get a mailer from the Census, it includes a code you can use in your online form. But Alaskans do not need that code to complete the form on

“You can simply go to the site, indicate that you want to fill out your Census form online, and there’s a little prompt to enter the code,” he said. “But there is a box that you can check that just says ‘I don’t have my code’ and it’s not a problem.”

The form can be completed by phone, too. Layman said it takes a few minutes. He also said there’s no penalty if a household accidentally reports more than once. The Census has methods of weeding those out. 

Getting a full and accurate count of Alaskans is vital, Layman said, for funding schools, public health and all kinds of other programs.

RELATED: Alaska Native language groups convene to translate census materials

“There are a lot of folks on the frontlines helping battle the spread of COVID-19. One thing that we can all do from the comfort of our homes, is to hop online or to pick up a phone and complete our Census,” Layman said. “And when we do that, it means we’re ensuring that critical funding flows into our communities for the next 10 years.”

While the state’s Census response rate is bad, there are a couple bright spots on the Alaska map, areas where people did fill out their census forms in above-average numbers. (We’re looking at you, Forest Park neighborhood of Anchorage, and Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley.)

The state with the highest response so far? Minnesota, where more than half of the households have already responded.

RELATED:Toksook Bay prepares to be first town counted in 2020 U.S. Census

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at