Originally published on the The Director’s Blog
The 2010 Census forms are being delivered by the US Postal Service Monday-Wednesday or so throughout the country.
This will be the second mailing to about 120 million households from the Census Bureau. We sent last week an advance letter, which is state-of-the-art practice in survey research. The advance letter is an act of courtesy that also legitimizes this week’s mailing (the actual census form) and thereby leads to higher participation rates. Since the cost of census takers’ salaries to follow up with face-to-face visits is so high, the advance letter saves taxpayer money, compared to just sending out the form.
Judging from emails I’ve received protesting our spending on an advance letter, it’s clear that it would be good for me to review the efficiencies of the various mailings. Research throughout the world has shown that some people will not fill out the census form immediately, some will put it on a table along with other mail. It tends to be forgotten, not as a deliberate act, but merely in the belief that we’ll get to it later. Anything we can do to remind people of the importance of filling out the form can avoid the expensive follow-up stage of the Census.
The week of March 22, we’ll send a little postcard reminding people to fill out the form and mail it back, if they haven’t already done so. The postcard does cost money (just like the advance letter) but the little nudge to mail it back, if successful, avoids the $57 it will cost to travel out to take an interview in person. Much research shows that it more than pays for itself.
One of my most important obligations as director is to be a careful steward of the taxpayers’ money. I feel this deeply, and I’m very sure that this use of money is a wise investment to avoid much larger salary costs of staff to follow up those who do not fill out the form and mail it back.