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Census Day is over, yes, but counting noses is not

Post by Kris Sherman / The News Tribune on April 8, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
April 9, 2010 9:48 am

Yep, they’re still counting

We’ve been getting a lot of questions from readers about the Census, whether you can still get a Census form if you didn’t receive one, whether it’s too late to mail it back if you did get it and why the government’s spending so much money on reminders, among other things.

The decennial count is the most expensive in U.S. history, expected at a total tab of more than $14 billion to verify and map the nation’s population of about 310 million.

Here’s a Q&A., with answers from local Census Bureau spokeswoman Cecilia Sorci.

Q: I heard the Census questionnaires needed to be returned by April 1. Is it too late to fill it out and send it back?

A: No. It’s true that April 1 was Census Day, the date on which the official every-10-year snapshot of the nation’s population was to be taken. But that’s just a reference point. You still have time to complete your form and mail it in – before a Census taker shows up ar your door. That said, Census Bureau officials so want you mail back your questionnaire by next Friday, April 16. That will give them time to log who’s already been counted before sending Census foot soldiers out to get data from stragglers.


Q: I haven’t received a Census form. How do I get one?

A: “Sit tight until the 12th,” Sorci says. If you haven’t received one by Monday, call‐866-872-6868. Someone will help you fill it out over the phone or get one in the mail to you. If you get mail only at a Post Office box, you’ll either have to complete the form by phone or go to a Questionnaire Assistance Center. To find the one nearest you, go to www.2010census.gov, look under the “Didn’t receive a form?” heading on the lower left-hand side of the page and follow the prompts.

Q: Why aren’t questionnaires delivered to P.O. Boxes?

A: The Census is based on a count of who’s in each American household. Officials check that either the letter was delivered by the Postal Service or hand-carried to a home by Census workers. Last week, an army of enumerators counted noses at soup kitchens and shelters and checked for homeless people under bridges, sleeping in doorways and in other locations.

Q: Can I fill out the form online?

A: No. Security and privacy are the reasons. Also, studies have shown that Internet response wouldn’t necessarily be better than hand-completed forms.

Q: Doesn’t the Census Bureau have faith in the public, readers Jim and Marilyn Bradley of Orting asked. Why the mail blitz of reminder post cards and duplicate forms? Isn’t that a huge waste of taxpayer money?

A: It’s true mailings are expensive, Sorci says. But they’re still cheaper than the estimated $57 per household it costs for a Census taker to track you down at home and get your information that way. Better mail response rates saved the government an estimated $305 million in 2000, she said. It will cost about $85 million this year to count every 1 percentage point of the population that does not return a form, she added.

Q: So, if I get two forms, can I stuff the Census ballot box? Are Census officials worried about fraud?

A: No, Sorci says. Each questionnaire is geo-coded to a specific household, so officials will know if they receive more than one from the same family. It’s easy, she said, for some people to forget they’ve already sent it in, or for one spouse to fill out the form, not realizing the other already took care of it.

Q: Is every person supposed to get a Census form?

A: No. Census forms are mailed or delivered to households and are meant to be completed by one person for everyone living at an address.

Q: How are we doing?

A: As of this afternoon, 64 percent of American households had completed the form and mailed it back. Washington mirrored the national rate, also at 64 percent. Pierce County was at 63 percent today, while King County bested that record by 1 percentage point at 64 percent. Kitsap and Thurston counties each stood at a 67-percent return rate.

To check on participation in your area and by state, click here.

Q: Why do the Census at all?

A: Counting the U.S. population every 10 years is a Constitutional requirement. The count helps the federal government apportion some $400 billion for roads, hospitals and other services each year. It also determines how the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are divvied up. It’s possible, for example, that Washington’s rising population could earn it a 10th seat in Congress when all the counting is done.

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