Thousands expected to rush to beat Permanent Fund dividend deadline

FAIRBANKS -- While more than a half-million Alaskans have already filed, thousands of procrastinators are expected to sign up for the 2015 Permanent Fund dividend to just beat the March 31 deadline.

A year ago, the final day was the third busiest for applications, trailing only Jan. 1 and Jan. 2, when nearly 30,000 Alaskans filed online or by mail.

The annual exercise, more popular than that other spring chore with an April 15 deadline, is aimed at assembling a list of those who are to receive checks in the fall, but it also provides a demographic portrait of sorts for the state's residents.

This compilation of names and addresses created during the first three months every year is not a universal list, as it excludes thousands of new arrivals as well as people who forget to file, felons and others with various legal and financial woes who don't stand to collect anything.

But the data does provide some details about the populace, with a few highlights about who we are.

If the recent past is any guide, the 2015 applications are likely to show that the most common surnames are Smith, Johnson, Williams, Brown and Jones. About 20,000 applicants gave one of those five last names a year ago.

In 2000, the Permanent Fund Dividend Division annual report showed the same top five surnames in different order -- Johnson, Smith, Williams, Jones and Brown. Over the years, these have been the consistent leaders, which mirrors the national pattern, though the Census Bureau has not updated its surname statistics in 15 years.

Taken together, the 5,389 people named Smith who applied for a dividend in 2014 and the 5,337 Johnsons represent less than 2 percent of the total, as there are thousands of family names among the other 98 percent.

The most common first names are not the fashionable types that show up in birth announcements, mainly because this is a distillation of generations of trendy names. In 2000 as in 2014, the top five male names were Michael, John, James, Robert and David.

For females, the name Mary appeared on more dividend checks in 2014 than any other, followed by Jennifer, Elizabeth, Sarah and Linda. In 2000, Mary and Jennifer were first and second, followed by Linda, Patricia and Susan.

The trends in first names, according to the Social Security database, may foretell a change, however. In 2013, the most popular birth names in Alaska for boys were Liam, William, Mason, Wyatt and Ethan. For girls, the top five choices were Emma, Sophia, Abigail, Isabella and Olivia, according to Social Security records.

Of the total 670,000 dividend recipients a year ago, there were 40 people older than 100 and about 1,500 were in their 90s. The oldest recipient was born in 1907, and there were 9,355 babies born in 2013 who collected $1,884 each last fall.

More than 26 percent of the applicants were under 18, while there were about 11,000 more men than women.

A majority of the checks go to Southcentral Alaska -- which is no surprise -- including 229,000 applicants with Anchorage mailing addresses and nearly 65,000 from Wasilla and Palmer. There were 74,000 from Fairbanks, 16 from Chicken, 23 from Prudhoe Bay, 36 from Pedro Bay, 51 from Beaver, 11 from Lake Minchumina and 33 from Elfin Cove.

The dividend application could be more useful as a demographic tool by requiring more information about recipients, but the main focus is on residency and meeting the minimum requirements for same.

The response rate among Alaskans is high because there is a greater incentive to participate than for any other data-gathering exercise. Those who sign up agree, "I certify that on the date of application I am now and intend to remain an Alaska resident indefinitely." At one time, the preferred word was "permanently," but the state long ago adopted the fuzzier "indefinitely." It also added the words, "on the date of application," allowing all applicants the option of changing their minds the next day.

Dermot Cole

Former ADN columnist Dermot Cole is a longtime reporter, editor and author.