Bering Sea village will be first counted in 2020 US Census

Ron Jarmin, acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau, addresses the convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, in Anchorage, Alaska. Jarmin announced that the first community to be counted in the 2020 Census will be Toksook Bay, Alaska. (AP Photo/Dan Joling)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A southwest Alaska Yupik village on the Bering Sea will be the first counted for the 2020 U.S. Census.

Acting U.S. Census Bureau director Ron Jarmin said Friday that census takers on Jan. 21, 2020, will descend on Toksook (TOOK-sook) Bay, a village of 673 in southwest Alaska.

Toksook Bay is 512 miles (825 kilometers) west of Anchorage. It’s accessible only by airplane or boat.

Counting people in Alaska is challenging because of the state’s vast size — more than twice as big as the next largest state, Texas — and the difficulty in reaching rural villages off the road system.

The Census Bureau will give itself a head start and travel to rural Alaska villages while rivers remain frozen and snow covers the landscape, allowing for travel to homes by snowmobile and all-terrain vehicles.

“Logistically, I think we need to get to the remote villages before the spring thaw,” Jarmin said. “That’s when people are there. That’s when you can actually access the community.”

The early start also allows census takers to reach people in villages before they scatter to remote camps for hunting or fishing. Many Toksook Bay residents support themselves by commercial fishing as well as traditional subsistence activities such as harvesting fish, game, waterfowl and berries.

Most Americans will receive notices by mail to self-respond to census questions in mid-March, Jarmin said. The bureau is expected to hire 300,000 census takers throughout the country and will hire local people.

“It’s important to have somebody that people will feel comfortable opening their door to, talking to,” Jarmin said. “It also really helps to have someone who knows the people and knows the terrain.”

Jarmin acknowledged that starting the census with a high-profile ceremony in an unusual location will help publicize the importance of the census. The count figures into each state’s representation in Congress, voting districts and federal aid. In Alaska, he said, not counting one person means a loss of $3,000 annually.

“This is absolutely critical for determining how federal funds that are tied to the population are doled out,” he said.

Jarmin announced the choice of Toksook Bay at the annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives, the state’s largest Alaska Native organization.

In 2010, the bureau began the census in Noorvik, an Inupiat village of 670 on the Kobuk River in northwest Alaska. The head of the Census Bureau conducted the first enumeration that year and is expected to be on hand in Toksook Bay.

President Donald Trump has nominated Steven Dillingham to be permanent Census Bureau director. Dillingham answered questions this month at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has not voted on the nomination.

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