The U.S. Census Bureau, located in Maryland, mailed more than 120 million forms to households all across the country. The government's once-a-decade population count will be used to divvy up congressional seats and more than $400 billion in federal aid.
Crucial for Fast Growing States
Fast-growing states in the South and the West could stand to lose the most because of lower-than-average mail participation rates in 2000 and higher shares of Hispanics and young adults, who are among the least likely to mail in their forms.
Mail It Back
"When you receive your 2010 census, please fill it out and mail it back," said Census Bureau director Robert Groves. He is urging cities and states to promote the census and improve upon rates in 2000, when about 72 percent of U.S. households returned their forms. If everyone who receives a census form mails it back, the government would save an estimated $1.5 billion in follow-up visits.
Census data shows public awareness of the 2010 count had improved since January to levels similar to 2000 at this point. Still, Census officials remain particularly concerned about motivating young adults, who were lagging other groups. Many twenty-somethings now on their own were living with their parents in 2000, so they haven't had the experience of filling out census forms.
Even as it aims high, the Census Bureau predicts that maybe two-thirds of U.S. households will mail in the form. That's because it faces special challenges of growing U.S. apathy toward surveys, residents displaced by a high number of foreclosures, as well as immigrants who have become more distrustful of government workers amid a crackdown on illegal immigration.
Your Help Is Needed
From May until July, the Census Bureau will send census-takers to each home that doesn't reply by mail, which sometimes leads to more inaccurate responses.In 2000, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and North Carolina each had below-average mail participation rates of less than 70 percent, according to newly released census data.
Black and Latino Count
In 2000, the Census Bureau for the first time had a nationwide overcount of 1.3 million people, mostly from duplicate counts of more affluent whites with multiple homes. Still, 4.5 million people were ultimately missed, most of them lower-income blacks and Hispanics.
States With Best Participation Rates
Midwest states such as Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska ranked at the top in mail participation, at roughly 80 percent. These states had higher shares of older white residents, who are more likely to view census participation as a civic duty. Iowa could lose one seat based on slowing population growth, while seats for Wisconsin and Nebraska are likely to remain unchanged.
"The Census Bureau has its work cut out for it," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the participation numbers. He noted an irony in which states and counties with high mail-participation rates in 2000 were the ones least likely to see large population gains in recent years."This makes it even more incumbent on the dynamic fast-growing parts of the country to improve upon their subpar census participation in 2000, if they are going to receive their just rewards," Frey said.
As part of its outreach, the Census Bureau for the first time is mailing out bilingual English-Spanish census forms to 13 million households. Census forms are also available upon request in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian, and assistance guides are available in 59 languages at www.2010census.gov.
Beginning next week, the Census Bureau will publish daily real-time data on 2010 mail-back participation rates for the U.S. broken down by state, county, city and zip code. Ron Loveridge, president of the National League of Cities and the mayor of Riverside, Calif., is challenging mayors to see who can get the highest participation rate.
On the Form
The 10-question form is one of the shortest in the history of the census. It asks a person's name, address, phone number, age, race and ethnicity, gender, living arrangements and home ownership. The information is kept strictly confidential under federal law, and the Census Bureau does not share data with other agencies, including law enforcement.
Failure to respond to the census carries a fine of up to $5,000, although that law is rarely enforced.