Census forms on their way

Ads during the Super Bowl. A NASCAR sponsorship. Buses touring the country from Manhattan to east L.A. Classroom lesson plans. More than 200,000 partnerships with churches and community groups.

Those outreach efforts are part of the massive campaign leading up to today — when more than 120 million 2010 Census forms start to land in mailboxes. They should all arrive by Wednesday.

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This key moment ultimately will decide the cost and success of the government’s $14.5 billion effort to count every U.S. resident.

“After 13 years of planning by career scientists across three presidential administrations, it’s now in your hands, America,” says Census Bureau spokesman Steven Jost. “The success, the accuracy and the efficiency of the Census is driven now by the share of Americans who mail back their forms.”

If all 120-million-plus homes that get the form this week fill it out and mail it back, as required by law, taking the 2010 Census will be over. One thing is certain: That won’t happen.

The Census Bureau projects that forms sent to almost 48 million addresses won’t be mailed back. About half won’t respond because no one lives there, a scenario worsened by record foreclosures.

The other half just won’t mail them, and it will cost the government $1.5 billion to send Census workers knocking on those doors through the summer. About 650,000 workers will be deployed starting in May to visit every housing unit — empty or not — that did not return the form.

When the 10-question form is mailed, it costs 42 cents in prepaid postage. When a Census worker visits, it’s an average $56 per household.

About 85% of Americans know about the Census, more than double 33% in early December, Jost says, citing the government’s daily tracking.

The Constitution requires counting every person every 10 years to redistribute seats in the House of Representatives. Some postings in the blogosphere and on YouTube have claimed that Americans don’t have to answer all the questions — only the number of people in their homes.

Yet Congress also requires the Census to collect extra data to help administer various laws, allocate more than $400 billion a year in federal aid to states and redraw political districts.

Census questions include: how many people live at the address; whether the dwelling is owned or rented; a phone number; and, for each household member, a name, sex, age, date of birth, race and indication of Hispanic origin.


GOV’T ASSURANCE: Census info is private

For the first time, the Census Bureau is sending 13.5 million bilingual forms to neighborhoods with many Spanish speakers.

“They need to do more” outreach to those communities, says Erika Montoya, senior Internet producer for Terra USA, a digital content creator for Hispanic audiences. Illegal immigrants “still think if they give out their information, they will get deported.”

Census responses are confidential by law. The maximum fine for unlawful disclosure is $250,000 and five years in prison.

“When you receive your 2010 Census,” Census Director Robert Groves says, “please fill it out and mail it.”

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