Census data shows a big rise in people identifying as Alaska Native with redistricting in flux

Alaska is older and more diverse than it was in 2010
Juneau saw a 3.1% rise in population since 2010, close to the statewide figure over the same...
Juneau saw a 3.1% rise in population since 2010, close to the statewide figure over the same period. (08/12/2021).(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 6:24 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The U.S. Census Bureau released data on Thursday, triggering a race to redraw the state’s legislative map.

Alaska’s nonpartisan redistricting board is now trying to clarify with its attorneys when it needs to finish its work.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed when the bureau released its data from March, leading to compressed timelines for state redistricting boards to draw legislative maps ahead of the 2022 general election.

Under state statute, the Alaska board has 30 days to design a draft map and present it for public comment once census data is released. A final map must be completed within 90 days.

Nicole Borromeo, a member of the board, explained that Thursday’s data was released earlier than a Sept. 30 deadline. Attorneys are trying to determine exactly when that 90-day timeline will begin.

State legislators from across the aisle were preparing to watch the census data being released on Thursday.

“I think if you’re a legislator and you’re not paying attention to them, you’re making a huge mistake,” said Rep. Kevin McCabe, R-Big Lake, on Wednesday.

McCabe represents the Alaska district that voted most heavily for former President Donald Trump in 2020. He said he’s curious if his district will change and how.

The state’s constitution mandates that there must be 40 House districts and 20 Senate districts in Alaska. According to Alaska’s redistricting board, each of the 40 House districts has a target population of 18,355.

McCabe wants to know if the Matanuska-Susitna Borough will gain a representative with its strong population growth over the past 10 years.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, represents the Alaska district that voted most strongly for President Joe Biden in 2020. He said on Wednesday that he would also be watching closely.

“I think everybody who has a district based on population is going to have a look at those numbers,” Kiehl joked.

Big population growth in the Mat-Su, declines in parts of Southeast Alaska

The latest census data shows that some Alaska boroughs saw strong population growth over the past 10 years while others saw steep declines:

  • Among Alaska boroughs, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough added the most people since the last census in 2010, growing by 18,086 people or 20.3%.
  • The Municipality of Skagway saw the biggest population gain by percentage in Alaska since 2010, increasing by 28.1% or 272 people.
  • Anchorage’s population shrank by 0.2% since 2010 to 291,247.
  • The Fairbanks North Star Borough also saw a 2% population decline over the same period.
  • The Kenai Peninsula Borough grew by 6.1% to have a population of 58,799.
  • Juneau’s population grew by 3.1% since the last census to 32,255. Other communities across Southeast Alaska saw their numbers drop.
  • Parts of Northern and Western Alaska saw big jumps in population with a 17% rise in the North Slope Borough and a 12.2% increase in the Kusilvak Census Area.
  • Haines Borough had the sharpest population decline by percentage across Alaska, shrinking by 17.1% since 2010. The tiny Bristol Bay Borough also saw its population drop by 15.3% since the last census count.

Liz Brooks, an analyst with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, explained this data was not surprising. The Mat-Su has long been the fast growing region in Alaska. Alaskans in western and northern parts of the state tend to trend younger and more people are at child-bearing age, Alaskans in the Southeast tend to skew older, Brooks said.

According to the bureau’s data, Alaska’s population grew by 3.3% since 2010 to 733,391 people. The United States population as a whole increased by 7.4% over the same period, the slowest rate of growth in decades.

While the state’s population grew over the past decade it has not been linear. Alaska’s population peaked in 2016 with just over 740,000 people before declining for four straight years.

Alaska is more diverse and older, but demographers are waiting for more data

According to the latest data, more Alaskans identify as non-white and the state is edging older than 10 years ago.

Brooks said Alaska’s estimated median age is 35.7 compared to 33.8 in 2010. She said that follows an aging trend seen nationally.

The state’s racial makeup is following national trends, too. Part of that is to do with how the bureau records data, Brooks said, explaining that beginning in 2000, Americans could identify as belonging to more than one racial group.

The latest census data showed that 59.4% of Alaskans identify as white alone compared to 66.7% in 2010.

There was a 15.9% increase in people who identified as Alaska Indian and Alaska Native or in combination with another race to just under 22% of the state’s population. The 2020 data shows 160,287 people in Alaska identify that way, a rise of 28,112 people since 2010.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development is now waiting for more complete data from the federal government. Thursday’s data dump does not have a detailed breakdown of age groups or household size, essential aspects of analyzing demographic trends.

Brooks said that data is expected to be released next year. She explained that census data is used in federal funding models for roads, hospitals, schools, and dozens of other programs.

Copyright 2021 KTUU. All rights reserved.