Drivers of US Census Participation

The 2010 edition of the US Census is coming in with some pretty good returns. “Slightly more than 72 percent of U.S. households believed to be occupied mailed back their 2010 Census forms, the same rate that was achieved in 2000,” according to the US Census Bureau.

Minnesota is in 2nd place at 80%, just a bit behind nation-leading Wisconsin.  I would note that there are voids in the data for certain counties in the northern part of Badger-land, so the Gopher State might just be number 1 anyway.

Why are rates so good this year?

Sample survey participation has been falling over the last decade, for a number of reasons.  In a press briefing today, Census Bureau Director Dr. Robert Grove gave credit to two factors in this year’s success:

  1. The Short Form:  the Long Form went away this year, so it was easier for the American public to participate.
  2. Operational Improvements, including targeted Replacement Form mailings and increased marketing and partnerships

Mail participation is the benchmark used by the Census Bureau to judge their initial success.

Why Mail “Participation” Rate Is A Fairer Measure than Mail Response Rate

The Mail Participation Rate is the percentage of forms mailed back by households that received them. The Census Bureau developed this new measure in 2010, in part because of the current economy and higher rates of vacant housing. The rate excludes households whose forms were returned to us by the U.S. Postal Service as “undeliverable,” strongly suggesting the house was vacant. We will still follow up on all these housing units to ensure everyone is counted.

You can find your community’s Census participation rate here.

Patterns in response rates?

“The biggest drivers are not race and ethnicity in participation rates”, said Census Bureau Director Dr. Robert Groves.

The Bureau did some simple analysis of mail-in returns compared to data available for Census Tracts from the American Community Survey.  Participation rates varied visually depending on vacancy rates (even with corrections cited above), multi-unit structures, rental-occupied units, education and poverty rates.  (The charts are attached below.)

Understanding these patterns will help the Census complete their count effectively and efficiently.  Said Groves,  “Those are the neighborhoods we will be visiting in coming weeks.”

About 635,000 people working for the US Census hit the streets Saturday to start knocking on doors.

Census OpPressBriefing_4.28–v2.2010 (PPT)
Census Mail-in Participation Briefing 28April2010 (PDF)


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