Government ‘a Counting: Does the U.S. Census Need a 21st-Century Makeover?

The Internet Age is upon us. But rather than circulating online, the 23rd Decennial Census stuck with the tried-and-true, and flooded the U.S. Postal Service March 16 through 18 with surveys en route to more than 120 million households nationwide. The 10-question form, which probes for demographic information such as age, sex and race, will help determine how more than $400 billion will be allocated to communities across the country. Citizens and noncitizens alike are required by law to complete the form and mail it back to the U.S. Census Bureau in the accompanying prepaid envelope. That’s a lot of mail, but that’s not all of it.

In case the mail at your household gets picked up and thrown into the “we’ll get to it later” pile, the Census Bureau took the extra step this year of sending out a “heads-up” letter in advance–a “state-of-the-art practice in survey research,” according to Census Director Robert Grove’s blog–to encourage participation. And in case that’s not enough paper for you, an extra nudge was mailed out the week of March 22. This might sound excessive, but the mail-out/mail-back response rate for the 2000 census was only 65 percent, and the missing data has to be collected in person by enumerators at a cost of about $57 per household. So the nudge “more than pays for itself,” Groves says.


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