By HOPE YEN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Let the count begin.
More than 120 million U.S. census forms begin arriving Monday in
mailboxes around the country, in the government's once-a-decade
population count that will be used to divvy up congressional seats
and more than $400 billion in federal aid. 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.
Did those $2.5 million Super Bowl ads work? Stay tuned.
"When you receive your 2010 census, please fill it out and mail
it back," said Census Bureau director Robert Groves, who was set
to kick off the national mail-in campaign Monday in Phoenix, Ariz.,
a state which could gain up to two U.S. House seats because of
rapid immigrant growth in the last decade.
Groves 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.
Speaking in an interview, Groves said real-time census data
showed public awareness of the 2010 count had improved since
January to levels similar to 2000 at this point, which he called
"good news." Still, he remained 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
"If the American public comes through in the way everyone is
capable of, we'll have a great census," Groves said.
The next few weeks will be critical. 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
From May until July, it will send census-takers to each home
that doesn't reply by mail, which sometimes leads to more
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. Since
then, many of these states have seen higher rates of foreclosures
and rapid growth of Hispanics or blacks, who are often more
reluctant to turn in their forms. Each of these states stand to
gain at least one U.S. House seat, with Texas picking up as many as
On the other end of the scale, 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
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, mostly lower-income blacks and Hispanics.
"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.
It also is hoping to motivate cities, counties and local
communities to get involved. In 2000, both dense urban cities and
sprawling rural areas - from Alabama and California to Michigan and
New York - faced problems with an undercount, particularly in areas
with larger shares of lower-income residents.
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.
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.
The mail-back campaign comes after the Commerce Department
inspector general, Todd Zinser, last month found the Census Bureau
wasted millions of dollars in paying temporary employees who didn't
do the work and overbilled for travel. Zinser urged the bureau to
tighten spending controls before it dispatched 650,000 additional
temporary employees to visit homes in May.
Groves, who was sworn in as director in July, has said he would
keep closer watch over agency spending.
The Super Bowl advertising, part of the bureau's $133 million
media campaign to increase public awareness, was panned as
ineffective by media critics and wasteful by Republicans including
Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The IG report, however, said the
advertising was consistent with government goals of boosting
participation in the count.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)