Is the Census trying too hard this year?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More than half of the Census forms mailed out in Adams County have been completed and returned.

But apparently the U.S. Census wants a higher return rate, because they sent me two forms.

My husband and I mailed our completed form back the day after it arrived at our house. That was about three weeks ago.

Then last week, we got another blank Census form just like the first.

Are we important enough to count twice? Certainly not.

It turns out our household isn’t alone in this latest of exorbitant Census spending.

A spokesman at the U.S. Census office in Jackson acknowledged that several folks in the state had reported receiving two forms. He said a second mailing to households who have already completed the first Census was a mistake they were working to correct.

But a press release on the main Census Web site says second forms are being sent to 40 million houses in areas that had low return rates in the 2000 Census.

Apparently the second round of printing will cost taxpayers $42 million. But Census officials have stuck to their guns saying a second form is more likely to be returned and could save more than $500 million that would have to be spent to pay Census workers who may ultimately go door-to-door.

Seems like a bit of fuzzy math to me.

I’m not sure what numbers they are multiplying to get to $500 million, but they are surely as large as all the other Census bills we’ve seen this counting season.

The 2010 Census budget is obviously suffering from inflation and is easily the most expensive ever.

Estimates say the Census will cost approximately $15 billion. Of that enormous number, $340 million went to marketing.

Everything from Dora the Explorer to a highly expensive Super Bowl commercial has been used to promote this year’s Census.

Locally, the public schools received $3,000 to promote the Census and in turn had hundreds of magnets printed. A few dozen are sitting on a reception area desk here at the newspaper if you’d like one.

Six days after “Census day” — the not-so-strict deadline for returning your forms — all the marketing has garnered just better than half of the desired forms. The national participation rate stood at 62 percent Tuesday.

In Mississippi, the return rate is 57 percent. In Adams County it is 59 percent.

Concordia Parish lags behind at 47 percent, while the state of Louisiana is at 55 percent.

With a skyrocketing national debt and financially strained taxpayers, it’s difficult to swallow the cost of the Census.

I simply believe there are cheaper, yet effective, ways to market.

Unfortunately, this government spending — like so many others lately — is out of our hands for the moment.

The only thing you can do to help save our collective tax dollars is to return your complete form and make sure all your friends and neighbors have as well.

Nobody counts twice, but everyone counts.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.