Mar 14, 2010

Census, the Reply

As mentioned a few days ago, I used the Census Bureau's web form to ask why they're wasting my money on mailings. I received a form-letter response the next day. Here we go! (My comments in italics, any emphasis also mine.)

Thank you for using the US Census Bureau's Question & Answer Center. Thank you for your email. We here at the Census Bureau certainly understand your concern, and I want to assure you we care a great deal about being good stewards of the taxpayer's money.

Because it pays our salaries, and by gum, we want to make sure you get your fair share - just like all those ads are suggesting!

The short answer to your question is that even on the eve of census forms arriving next week, as many as 45% of Americans are unaware that this month is when the Census starts. That's probably due to the fact we only do a Census once every ten years. Based on historical response rates, we expect roughly two thirds of households will mail back their form. The rest we will have to send an enumerator to collect the data required by the Constitution. You can imagine that follow-up is an expensive proposition. In fact, every one percent increase in the number of households who mail back the form saves the taxpayers about $85 million in expensive door-to-door follow up. That's why we advertise and promote, to increase the mail back response rate and help save on expensive labor to follow up.

And we'd love to do it annually, if we could just get some more of those tax dollars to steward! Here's a thought: put something as essential as "Civics" back into school curriculum. Teach the actual Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. Not just as vague concepts, but take it apart and discuss what it really means. Parents, if your school won't do this, do it yourself with your kids! Make sure they understand civic duty: voting, census, jury duty, and public office if they are so inclined.

We have extensive research that shows additional mailings alerting households to the arrival of the census form increase response rates by about 6 to 12 percentage points. The savings from that increase more than pay for these mailings. It costs about $85 million to print and mail the advance letter and reminder postcard. The potential increase in response rates demonstrated by our research could result in a savings of more than $500 million.

So my $60mil estimate was actually on the low side. What do they base their research on? Do they have a legitimate control group? Ask any scientist: "research" without a control group is JUNK SCIENCE. (Side note: how much did this research cost?) Also, please note, "potential increase ... could result". Possibilities, not definitive statements.

After the 2000 Census we returned to the Treasury some $305 million in savings. Then Secretary of Commerce Don Evans testified in 2001 to the U.S. Senate that those savings came about from our advertising, promotion and PR efforts encouraging households to mail back their forms, increasing response rates over the prior census for the first time in three decades.

And they then did what with the savings? I guarantee they didn't get mailed back to the taxpayers, so it was not money "saved", it was money "reassigned". Mr. Evans can testify to whatever he wants; as many are aware, the cloud of lies hovering around Capitol Hill would make a bad smog day in Los Angeles look tempting.

The total we spend on all promotion and advertising is about one dollar per person in the U.S. It costs just 42 cents to mail back the form. But it costs $57 for follow up with non-responding households, many of which we must visit several times to reach someone at home. We wish we did not have to advertise, and that 100% of households mailed their form back, but that is just not the case. Not everyone is as active and engaged as yourself.

So please, be nice and leave us alone! We're spending $300,000,000.00 on advertising (does that include the SuperBowl spot? The radio ads on EVERY DAMN CHANNEL? $85mil in mailings?) - but that's not the cost of the census. There's forms to count, people to hire, non-compliant non-responding households to visit...

We appreciate your civic minded spirit, and your concern for our current fiscal situation. I hope this information helps explain the steps we are taking to reduce the burden on taxpayers of meeting our Constitutional mandate to count every person in the country.

Your Constitutional mandate is to enumerate the population once every ten years, "in such manner as [Congress] shall by law direct". Not seeing anything about asking about income, race, housing situation...

Our form will be received, filled out, and mailed back. It will say "Residents: 2. Resident 1 is male. Resident 2 is female." They can send anyone they want to the house, who will be given the same information.

I need to put up that flagpole yet, and it's going to have the Star Spangled hanging right above Gadsden.

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