Rural Alaska

2020 Census to start in Alaska village of Toksook Bay

In keeping with tradition of launching the U.S. census in an Alaska village, Toksook Bay in Southwest Alaska will be the first community counted in the 2020 Census.

The village of close to 700 will launch the Alaska count of more 240 communities, Ron Jarmin, the acting director of the U.S Census Bureau, told the Alaska Federation of Natives on Friday.

"On Jan. 21, 2020, a small army of people will descend on Toksook Bay, and we'll do a small numeration (and ceremony) there," Jarmin told delegates at the group's annual convention.

"I am proud," said Simeon Chakuchin, on the board of the Toksook Bay village corporation.

The census count started in the Northwest Alaska village of Noorvik in 2010, Jarmin said.

The count starts in Alaska in part because of seasonal needs. Winter is the time when homes can be accessed – by snowmachine across frozen rivers if necessary.

And villagers are more likely to be home then, rather than in summer when they're busier subsistence hunting and fishing.

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The count is critical for determining the amount of federal funds communities might be eligible for, he said. One resident not counted might cost a village about $3,000 in support.

Toksook Bay met several criteria to become the first community in the U.S., said Jarmin. For one thing, the village can be accessed relatively easily, from the hub community of Bethel, about 400 miles west of Anchorage.

The census will hire hundreds of Alaskans, paying about $20 an hour, to help conduct the count, he said. It plans to open an office in Anchorage in January 2019 that will work on hiring people and taking other steps to prepare the count.

The census might hire one or two people in a small community like Toksook Bay, going door-to-door making sure everyone inside is counted, Jarmin said.

Like many villages in Alaska, unemployment is high and income is low in the village, about $14,000 a person, according to state figures.

The jobs "can be a nice shot in the arm for local economies," said Jarmin.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or alex@adn.com.

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