Monday, April 5, 2010

The Count of Uptown

A reader writes:  "We received a duplicate census form in the mail yesterday. I was a bit upset to see this as I mailed in my form 2 days after receiving it. It appears that the Census Bureau is automatically sending out duplicate forms to areas that had low response rates in the past. So if any of our UU friends receive a duplicate form, it doesn't mean your form wasn't received - it's simply a way for the Census Bureau to increase their response rate.

Additionally, there is a neat participation map on the Census Bureau website that shows mail participation rates.Pretty nifty stuff."


  1. I'm confused...I heard about the low response rates as early as April 1. The form asks for data effective April 1. Were we expected to send them same-day freight? Were we expected to predict the future and mail them early? I completed mine on April 1 and mailed it April 2. What's the big concern?

  2. Apparently it costs the Census about a buck per household to send out a mailing, and $15 per household to send an enumerator. So that's why we're getting mailings. Turns out "nag, nag, nag" is more cost effective. ;-)

  3. seems like the numbers are going to be totally screwed up. what's the point? i received two, but i thought it was in error, so i shredded it.

  4. I sent mine in on March 31st and received one last week. Talk about wasteful spending.

  5. TSN - Yes, that's exactly why. And the cost of sending an enumerator is actually about $57 per household. But the reminder notes, cards and extra forms you receive cost only a few dollars more total, but dramatically increase response rates. It's basic direct mail marketing (with the power of the law behind it).

    Even though the "date" is April 1, you were obviously allowed to send them in earlier. And they could tell from the early response rates where they were having problems (lower % returns in certain areas compared to others). They also have historical data from previous rounds that help identify areas that also haven't responded well.

    The intersection of that information tells them where they need to be even more proactive with forms, etc. Sadly, it's the very areas that tend to be most in need of help, services and government representation where people don't return the forms.

    The duplicate forms you received are coded to your address, so if you were to send in a duplicate, it will be easily ID'd and kicked out. But, honestly, given the response rate issues they've had, getting duplicates would be a fantastic problem to have.

    And, really Bradley, the number of people living long-term at your house changes so fast and frequently that you couldn't predict a week or two ahead? Either way, waiting until the first (or a little later) to send it was fine. Enumeration isn't going to start until the end of the month and the door-to-door lists of missing forms aren't going to be generated until around the 21st or so (allowing for mail time and initial processing).

    Any "screw-ups" from numbers are going to be from lack of responses and the inability to find people. They also have a number of quality control procedures, such as spot checking responses, to get the data as clean as possible.

    Full disclosure: I'm working in the Census office supervising two programs for getting language assistance and other questions answered for people having issues with the forms.

    And, yes, the Race and Ethnicity questions are REALLY confusing if you're Hispanic/Latino.

  6. Do you suppose they are trying to compensate for the total lack of mailings to rural towns outside of Chicago. I heard on the news that entire towns downstate are being refused census forms because all the residents have Rural Route or postal box numbers instead of street addresses like bigger towns. Even the Mayors cannot get the census bureau to budge so they have to get their own town volunteers to hand deliver to the residents to get counted ... and to get any federal funding.