A growing number of Alaskans and Americans are identifying themselves as multiracial or nonwhite, according to new data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to the census, 57.5% of Alaskans identify as white alone and not Hispanic or Latino, down from 64.1% in 2010.
Alaska’s change is slightly less than the national average: Across the United States, the proportion of people identifying as white alone declined by 5.9%. The number of white Americans declined for the first time since the census began in 1790.
As a whole, Alaska’s population grew from 710,231 in 2010 to 733,391 in 2020, a growth of 3.3%.
Increases in the first half of the decade beat years of declines in the second half. Skagway, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the North Slope Borough were the fastest-growing locations within the state. Haines, the Copper River area, and the Denali Borough lost the most people, proportionally.
Alaska is the 12th most diverse state in the country, according to the census, which measures diversity by the chance that two randomly chosen people in a state will share the same race and ethnicity. In Hawaii, there’s a 76% chance that they will be different, the highest odds in the country. In Alaska, there’s a 62.8% chance, better than the national odds, 61.1%.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government must conduct a census of all Americans every 10 years. Last year’s census began in Alaska and was hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed the release of The census bureau published preliminary state-level information in April; the data released Thursday goes to the borough level and neighborhood level and includes racial data.
Local-level information is used to redraw legislative districts ahead of the 2022 election, and Alaska’s redistricting board will meet later this month to set its schedule.
The state of Alaska publishes annual estimates of Alaska’s population and racial characteristics, but state demographer David Howell said the census is more reliable.
“It’s very useful for us, it kind of gives us a reset on our numbers, because at this point, we’re 10 years out from our last census, which kind of serves our benchmark. And, you know, it’s good to kind of reset your data every, every so often,” he said.
Racial changes in Alaska
Since 2013, state-published data has also shown a decreasing number of Alaskans who identify as white alone. The census data confirms that a growing number of people in Alaska and the nation are identifying as both white and another race.
“That’s something nationwide we’re seeing, more of the multirace option being chosen,” Howell said.
He said it’s not clear whether that’s because of population changes or because people feel more comfortable identifying themselves that way on census documents.
The percentage of Alaskans who identify as multiracial rose from 6.4% in 2010 to 9.8% in 2020, according to the census. The proportion of Alaskans who identify as Alaska Native alone rose from 14.4% to 14.8% during the same time period.
Nicholas Jones, who directs race questions for the census bureau, noted that the way the census asks racial questions has changed since 2010, which could affect the results slightly.
In Skagway, 86.3% of the population identifies as white, the highest rate of Alaska’s 30 boroughs and census areas.
The Denali Borough was No. 2, followed by the Kenai Peninsula, Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Haines Borough.
Anchorage was No. 15, exactly in the middle, with 56.5% of the population identifying as white.
The Kusilvak Census Area, which covers the Yukon River delta in Southwest Alaska, had only 2.1% of its population identify as white, the lowest proportion in the United States. Ninety-five percent of the area’s population identified as Alaska Native, with 2.2% identifying as multiracial.
The Bethel Census Area and Northwest Arctic Borough also had among the 10 smallest white populations in the nation, based on the proportion of total residents.
Skagway, Mat-Su were fastest-growing areas
In the United States on average, “smaller counties tended to lose population and larger counties tended to grow,” said Marc Perry, senior demographer of the Census Bureau’s population division.
That trend was somewhat reversed in Alaska. The small Southeast town of Skagway had Alaska’s largest borough-level increase, according to census data. It grew by 28%, or 272 people. The suburban Matanuska-Susitna Borough gained 18,086 people, or 20.3%, for the second-largest increase in the state.
The North Slope Borough grew by 17%, followed by the Kusilvak Census Area at 12.2% and Southeast Alaska’s Hoonah-Angoon Census Area at 10.1%.
“In Alaska, our high birth rates are really a steady population driver in our rural areas. There are much higher birth rates there than in our more urban areas,” Howell said.
Anchorage lost 0.2% of its 2010 population, leaving it with 291.247 people in 2020. The Fairbanks North Star Borough recorded a small loss, in part because the census didn’t catch the arrival of new soldiers and their families at Eielson Air Force Base. Juneau gained 3.1% population, to 32,255.
The largest loss in the state was recorded by Haines, which lost just 428 residents, or 17.1% of its population.
Legislative redistricting begins this fall
The arrival of the new census data means the boundaries of Alaska’s 40 state legislative districts must be redrawn. Under the state constitution, that process begins once census data is officially delivered to the state, something the Census Bureau expects to do in September.
From then, a five-member redistricting board will have 30 days to come up with a draft legislative map. The board will hold a series of public meetings across the state before finalizing a map no later than 90 days after it receives the official data.
The board is scheduled to meet Aug. 23-24 at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office to approve a schedule for its upcoming work.
Top five gains and losses
1. Municipality of Skagway: 28.1% — from 968 in 2010 to 1,240 in 2020
2. Matanuska-Susitna Borough: 20.3% — from 88,995 in 2010 to 107,081 in 2020
3. North Slope Borough: 17% — from 9,430 in 2010 to 11,031 in 2020
4. Kusilvak Census Area: 12.2% — from 7,459 in 2010 to 8,368 in 2020
5. Hoonah-Angoon Census Area: 10.1% — from 2,149 in 2010 to 2,365 in 2020
1. Haines Borough: -17.1% — from 2,508 in 2010 to 2,080 in 2020
2. Bristol Bay Borough: -15.4% — from 997 in 2010 to 844 in 2020
3. Copper River Census Area: -11.4% — from 2,955 in 2010 to 2,617 in 2020
4. Denali Borough: -11.3% — from 1,826 in 2010 to 1,619 in 2020
5. Wrangell City and Borough: -10.2% — from 2,369 in 2010 to 2,127 in 2020