'The Last Frontier' state proves challenging for census

Bucking the wind and cold, Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt kicked off the Census 2000 count Wednesday in Anchorage, Alaska.

At a news conference, Prewitt vowed to increase the number of respondents in Alaska. In the 1990 census, only 52 percent of the state's residents answered the questionnaire, far lower than other parts of the country that logged responses as high as 74 percent.

Alaska covers 586,412 square miles, making it two and a half times larger than Texas and the largest state in the country. Population estimates taken in 1998 place the number of people living in the state at 621,400.

This year, Prewitt is personally making a push to get more people counted. Today, he will travel to Unalakleet, a remote village 100 miles southeast of Nome to help 20 census workers go door-to-door to get the questionnaires answered.

Although people will be able to file census short forms online for the first time, many of those in remote locations of the United States will not be able to participate in the first high-tech census ever taken.

Prewitt said every state will be able to monitor how well their residents are doing in filling out the questionnaires and returning them. The census World Wide Web site will continually update response rates every day beginning March 27 through April 11 (www.census.gov).

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