U.S. Census Bureau launches once-a-decade head count in rural Alaska

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Jan 21 (Reuters) - The U.S. Census Bureau was due to launch its latest once-in-a decade head count of Americans on Tuesday in one of the most remote corners of the country: a tiny, rural Alaska Native settlement on the Bering Sea coast.

The population tally was scheduled to officially get under way with a ceremonial visit of Census Bureau chief Steven Dillingham to the home of a tribal elder in Toksook Bay, a Yup'ik village about 500 miles west of Anchorage.

From there, a team will fan out to collect 2020 census data from all the other Toksook Bay residents in a day of fanfare that will include ceremonial Yup'ik dance performances and a feast of traditional foods.

The census, a decennial endeavor mandated in the U.S. Constitution, is the basis for redrawing state legislative districts and reapportionment of Congress. It is also guides government funding for a vast array of programs and services, and produces some of the world's most widely used statistical information.

In the Lower 48 states, information about this year's census is expected to be mailed to households in mid-March, with April 1 designated the date of record for residential information submitted on census forms. Most people are expected to respond online, by mail or by telephone.

But in sprawling rural Alaska, where roads are few and much travel depends on hard-frozen ground, the census must get started earlier.

The Census Bureau has a tradition of selecting one or more remote Native villages to begin the official enumeration. Toksook Bay, with a population of 683, according to Alaska state information, has this year's honor.

But Tuesday's census kickoff, as in years past, is about more than counting the residents of a particular village. It is also meant to draw attention.

Related: Controversy over the 2020 census

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WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: People gather in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after several decisions were handed down on June 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. The high court blocked a citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census for now, and in another decision ruled that the Constitution does not bar partisan gerrymandering. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: People gather in in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as decisions are handed down on June 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. The high court blocked a citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census for now, and in another decision ruled that the Constitution does not bar partisan gerrymandering. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: People gather in in front of the U.S. Supreme Court as decisions are handed down on June 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. The high court blocked a citizenship question from being added to the 2020 census for now, and in another decision ruled that the Constitution does not bar partisan gerrymandering. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, testifies before a House Appropriations Subcommittee about preparations for the upcoming 2020 Census, on April 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. The 2020 census has caused controversy as the Trump administration is pushing to include a citizenship question. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: Kevin Smith, Associate Director for Information Technology at the US Census Bureau, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, Robert Goldenkoff, strategic issues director at the Government Accountability Office and Nicholas Marinos, information technology and cybersecurity director at the GAO, testify before a House Appropriations Subcommittee about preparations for the upcoming 2020 Census, on April 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. The 2020 census has caused controversy as the Trump administration is pushing to include a citizenship question. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: Committee Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) questions Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, as he testifies before a House Appropriations Subcommittee about preparations for the upcoming 2020 Census, on April 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. The 2020 census has caused controversy as the Trump administration is pushing to include a citizenship question. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: Robert Goldenkoff, strategic issues director at the Government Accountability Office, looks on as Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham testifies before a House Appropriations Subcommittee about preparations for the upcoming 2020 Census, on April 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. The 2020 census has caused controversy as the Trump administration is pushing to include a citizenship question. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
As the Supreme Court justices hear oral arguments over the 2020 census citizenship question, protesters have gathered outside the building in support of a fair and accurate census and demanding to not include the controversial question in the next census. Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Washington, D.C. (Photo by Aurora Samperio/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Demonstrators rally at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. - In March 2018, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced he was going to reintroduce for the 2020 census a question on citizenship abandoned more than 60 years ago. The decision sparked an uproar among Democrats and defenders of migrants -- who have come under repeated attack from an administration that has made clamping down on illegal migration a hallmark as President Donald Trump seeks re-election in 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators rally at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. - In March 2018, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced he was going to reintroduce for the 2020 census a question on citizenship abandoned more than 60 years ago. The decision sparked an uproar among Democrats and defenders of migrants -- who have come under repeated attack from an administration that has made clamping down on illegal migration a hallmark as President Donald Trump seeks re-election in 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators rally at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. - In March 2018, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced he was going to reintroduce for the 2020 census a question on citizenship abandoned more than 60 years ago. The decision sparked an uproar among Democrats and defenders of migrants -- who have come under repeated attack from an administration that has made clamping down on illegal migration a hallmark as President Donald Trump seeks re-election in 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators rally at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2019, to protest a proposal to add a citizenship question in the 2020 Census. - In March 2018, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced he was going to reintroduce for the 2020 census a question on citizenship abandoned more than 60 years ago. The decision sparked an uproar among Democrats and defenders of migrants -- who have come under repeated attack from an administration that has made clamping down on illegal migration a hallmark as President Donald Trump seeks re-election in 2020. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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"It's the first time the word is really getting across the nation that the 2020 census is here," Dillingham said on Saturday.

Dillingham and his colleagues have spent several days in the state meeting with Alaska Native groups and others among groups that tend to be undercounted – immigrants and college students.

At the University of Alaska Anchorage on Saturday night, Dillingham participated in a ceremonial puck drop for a hockey game, donning a special jersey given to him by the school to commemorate the 2020 census.

To help boost responses in harder-to-reach communities, the Census Bureau has translated its materials into several indigenous languages, including Yup'ik.

The bureau expects to hire 300,000 to 500,000 census takers for the 2020 count, and about 1.8 million people have already applied for the temporary jobs, Dillingham said.

Dillingham acknowledged that immigrants who feel vulnerable about their status in the United States may be reluctant to respond to questionnaires, but he stressed that all data collected is confidential.

The Trump administration tried to insert a question about citizenship status in this year's census form, a move that critics said would have made immigrants more fearful of the process. But the U.S. Supreme Court blocked that plan. (Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage; Editing by Steve Gorman and Gerry Doyle)

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