Census mailings start March 15

The 2010 U.S. Census is upon us.

The Census Bureau will start mailing questionnaires March 15, but workers began delivering forms this week to rural residents who don't have a specific street address.

Census workers also will go door to door to households that don't return the 10-question form. And that can get costly for taxpayers.

The Census Bureau spends about $25 for each home visit it makes, said Rich Gerdes, assistant manager for the bureau's regional office in Kansas City, Mo.

It costs the bureau 42 cents for each household that returns the form in the postage-paid envelope.

"It's extremely expensive to go door to door," Gerdes said. "Filling it out and mailing it in is definitely the way to go."

If necessary, the Census Bureau will send a worker to a residence up to six times.

The last census, conducted in 2000, saw 72 percent of the nation's population mail back their forms. Kansas tied for 10th with a 75 percent response.

The Census Bureau saves about $85 million in operational costs for each percentage point increase in the national mail response rate, Gerdes said.

If the Census Bureau hasn't received the form back by around April 1, Gerdes said a second form will be sent to that household.

If there is still no response by May 1, the bureau will send a worker to that household.

"It definitely helps a bunch if they just mail them in," Gerdes said. "And you don't feel as intruded upon by having someone coming to your door.

"Plus, we get better-quality data. People seem to be more careful about answering the questions sent by mail than if we're standing at their door."

Workers still must go to the rural residents that don't have physical addresses, but Gerdes said that represents only about 10 percent of the country. Those visits will continue through April 30.

The questionnaire is shorter for everyone than in the past censuses.

For the first time, the 10-question form is being sent to all households. Previously, one in six households received a long form questionnaire, Gerdes said.

The Census Bureau aims to contact all U.S. residents, regardless of whether they are U.S. citizens or not.

Data collected will help determine how communities receive more than $400 billion in federal funds for such things as hospitals, job training centers, schools, public works projects and emergency services.

The data also is used to determine the number of seats a state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.