Borough is right to say census got it wrong

It should be pretty easy to look at residential utility hookups, Permanent Fund dividend application statistics, housing occupancy and other data points to refute the U.S. Census Bureau count that shows Wrangell lost 242 residents between the federal government’s official tallies in 2010 and 2020.

Anyone who has tried to find housing to buy or rent would certainly dispute the notion that all those people left town, putting empty homes or apartments on the market.

But this mathematical dispute is much more than frustration over tight housing and civic pride, or that some federal agency says Wrangell shrunk. It’s real money.

No doubt the bureau’s disrupted door-to-door counting at the start of the pandemic last spring and summer made an already difficult job much harder nationwide. Census workers were pulled from the field, and it’s hard to get people to focus on filling out forms, answering their phones and, later, opening their doors when their lives are in turmoil.

But all that is an explanation, not an acceptable reason to miscount Wrangell.

Being told that Wrangell is a community of 2,127 rain-hooded souls instead of 2,369 from 10 years ago hurts the pocketbook. Federal assistance for rural schools and payments in lieu of property taxes in the Tongass National Forest are based on each borough’s number of residents.

A lot of state programs also include population counts in their allocation formulas.

Borough officials were quick this month to say they intend to research the census numbers and try to figure out what went wrong in the count, while at the same time looking to see what options they have to challenge the bureau’s tally.

Wrangell’s protest options appear limited. The U.S. Census Bureau does provide what it calls a Count Question Resolution procedure where states and municipalities can ask for a review of the numbers. It’s not possible to get a full recount, according to the rules, but Wrangell could argue that specific housing units were erroneously excluded from the count. That may be the only opportunity under the bureau’s procedures to challenge the numbers.

Considering the money that is at stake for the next 10 years — until the 2030 census can give Wrangell a do-over — the borough is smart to devote resources in an effort to even partially correct the count, even if it means spending money on an attorney and/or demographer or statistician who specialize in taking on the Census Bureau.

It would be money well spent.


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