Cordova lags state in census response

With 48.7% response rate, Alaska comes last in the U.S.

When the city of Cordova decides how to manage local resources, it must have some idea how many people live in the community. Often, the city relies on state and federal figures that contradict one another, said City Planner Leif Stavig. More reliable is the data provided by the U.S. census, which gives the city a clear and precise measurement of its population.

However, although census forms have been distributed around Cordova, only a little over a third of households have responded, according to Census Bureau data.

“Some of the processes have gotten a little more challenging with the pandemic, and this is one of them,” Mayor Clay Koplin said. “But challenges like the pandemic are exactly why it’s important to properly count the population. Whether it’s test kits or personal protective equipment or the number of people working in critical industries, all those pieces are important.”

As of Tuesday, July 21, 37.7 percent of Cordova households had responded to the census. By comparison, the self-response rate for the state of Alaska was 48.7 percent. Alaska currently has the lowest participation rate in the U.S., and is the only state with a participation rate under 50 percent. The national census self-response rate stands at 62.3 percent.

Within Alaska, Cordova holds the 10th-highest participation rate out of 43 communities identified by Census Bureau data. Juneau leads the state with a participation rate of 64 percent. Alaska’s lowest participation rate of 5 percent belongs to Kasaan, a coastal community whose population hovers around 50.

A robust census response would help confirm or disprove anecdotal reports that Cordova’s population of young residents has grown, Stavig said. Stavig and other city staff rely heavily on population data when drawing up new comprehensive plans and other documents that guide the priorities of city government.

“There’s a vibe that the town is growing,” Stavig said. “I would expect to see it a little bit bigger than it was in 2010, but it’s hard to know. It’s good to have the solid data that the census provides, versus the estimates.”

Census data is also used to redraw electoral districts and to determine funding for hospitals, fire departments, school lunch programs and other services.

“To the extent that Alaskans don’t participate in the census, it could skew our numbers and shortchange Alaska in terms of programs,” Koplin said.

Community members can participate in the census at Between Aug. 11-Oct. 31, census takers will interview households that haven’t yet responded, according to the Census Bureau.