A more costly census

Next week I will begin training to be a U.S. Census enumerator. Yes, I will be one of those folks who go from dwelling to dwelling to gather information to complete the decannual count.

The Census expects to hire 870,000 temporary workers such as myself to go around and knock on doors – as many as six visits just to get the information that very easily could have been mailed back to the bureau.

Some states will need more door-knockers than others. The latest figures indicate that 72 percent of U.S. households that were sent the Census questionnaire actually mailed it back. Nancy, who’s from the Midwest, was gratified to learn that Wisconsin led the nation in percentage of households that returned census forms by mail – 81 percent. And Wisconsin is clustered among several states that exceeded 78 percent in their return rates. North Carolina’s rate was 74 percent. New Mexico had the worst rate, 63 percent.

Another way to think of those return rates is how much money we taxpayers could have saved if all of us just filled out and mailed in the questionnaire sent to us. That 28 percent who didn’t mail back a form is costing us as much as $1.5 billion in extra effort by hiring more workers. (Some perspective on that $1.5 billion: That’s enough money to take care of Orange County’s budget for 20 years.)

To put it another way, households that mailed back questionnaires cost the government less than a half-dollar in census-taking fees. To hire and coordinate enumerators to trudge door-to-door to get that information will cost $57 per household. If people had just done what they supposed to do, that extra expense could have been saved.

The census is not something that can be ignored. Local communities depend on the periodic count to help the governments apportion federal funds each year for such things as hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior centers, bridges, tunnels and other-public works projects and emergency services. An accurate count can benefit every community. It’s a shame that filling out and mailing the form was too onerous a task for so many Americans.

Turns out it also was very costly.
–Don Evans

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  1. Mark Marcoplos

     /  April 29, 2010

    So the ignorant census whiners from wacky Tea Bag nation have not only caused more expense for the taxpayers, but they are skewing the census against their interests. Too bad evolution moves so slowly.

  2. Bob

     /  April 29, 2010

    What a beacon of light and love……….

  3. Steve

     /  April 29, 2010

    Bob, remember what Spiro Agnew once called people like Mark?

    “nattering nabobs of negativism”

    You’d think a guy who owns a private 10 acres country estate and runs his own corporation as CEO would be pleased at his lot in life, but, no.

    I gritted my teeth and returned my short-form Census questionnaire. Had they sent me the longer, unconstitutional version, I’d have answered only the questions I am legally required to.

    Mark’s inaccurate HuffPo-fueled supposition about ‘tea party’ folks (whoever they are) not returning their forms can be traced directly to excesses of the political Left forcing their intrusive and divisive ways into the minds and pocketbooks of Americans since 1916.
    He should look first in the mirror for the cause of this passive unrest, instead of parroting the DailyKos / MSNBC agitprop. Don’t like Michele Bachman? Cool, we’re even: I don’t like Barney Frank, and I’ll give you two guesses who costs the country more.

    Oh, and as for the wasted money, isn’t it time to say something like “if we weren’t pursuing an unjust war in (fill-in-the-blank-banana-republic) we’d have the money to spend on (the census, eradicating poverty, etc.).”

  4. Frank

     /  April 29, 2010

    “if we weren’t pursuing an unjust war in (fill-in-the-blank-banana-republic) we’d have the money to spend on (the census, eradicating poverty, etc.).”

    I’ll say it. It’s true. It’s relevant every minute of every day because that’s where most of my tax money goes.

  5. Steve

     /  April 29, 2010

    Actually … no.

    Only 24% of Federal spending is DoD related.

    Health and welfare is 37%.

    Pensions are 21%.

  6. Mark Marcoplos

     /  April 29, 2010

    Either my gardener or my butler will have a response soon. I’m catching some country air in my surry.

  7. Frank

     /  April 30, 2010

    “Only 24% of Federal spending is DoD related.”

    Not quite right. Only 24% of the federal budget is defense. A large portion of military spending is outside of the budget. The majority of our tax money goes to fund the military.

  8. Mark Marcoplos

     /  April 30, 2010

    $2542 goes to the military for every citizen of Orange County annually. With a population of 135,000 that amounts to about $343 million. The proposed county budget is $178 million.

    You have to be delusional not to consider this incredible tax burden when surveying the financial challenges we all face.

  9. Bob

     /  April 30, 2010

    My, it is so hard to have a grown-up conversation with the ‘delusional’……..I am so feeling the love and seeing the light now.

  10. Steve

     /  April 30, 2010

    Don’s original point ought to be the focus of this thread, and I’m sorry for helping threadjack. Given that, and to put the original observation in context, it’s worth watching this short video:


    Like Don, I wish we could save on the Census costs.

    But in the big picture, it’s but a small matter. What we have to do as a nation is recognize that we cannot have everything we want. For example, I want my parents’ retirement to be comfortable. But our family was too poor to save in the years when that should have been happening.

    So now, they live on Social Security. Where’s that $30k/year come from? Well, the amount they paid in was exhausted not long after they stared collecting. Since they had five kids and four of us are working, 12.6% of our combined income goes to FICA, and is redistributed to our parents. I ran the rough numbers and it comes out even. Of course, this scheme only works for couples who had lots of kids, if they all work, and that none of us kids ever collect any Social Security ourselves.

    Where is Charles Ponzi when we need him?

    If we can’t radically scale back entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, or abolish the Departments of Education, Energy, and HUD … or, we can’t learn to ignore (or preemptively nuke, my preference) petty tyrants around the world and in so doing vastly reduce our military expenses, it won’t matter that we waste big bucks conducting a Census by hand. In 10 years, we’ll be like Greece and Spain are now, and today’s bleak economic situation will truly be the ‘good old days.’