My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Check Your Mailboxes…

The 2010 Census advance letters that were mailed today have started to arrive at homes across America. For questions or comments or complaints, share your thoughts in the comments section here!

The text of the advance letter is as follows:

Dear Resident:

About one week from now, you will receive a 2010 Census form in the mail.
When you receive your form, please fill it out and mail it in promptly.
Your response is important. Results from the 2010 Census will be used to
help each community get its fair share of government funds for highways,
schools, health facilities, and many other programs you and your neighbors
need. Without a complete, accurate census, your community may not receive
its fair share. Thank you in advance for your help.

Sincerely, Robert M. Groves
Director, U.S. Census Bureau

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23 Responses to “Check Your Mailboxes…”

  1. Dave Says:

    I just got this letter. What a waste! I’d guess about $50 million went into this letter, all to let us know we were going to get a letter in a week. Seriously? Forget about health care, this is the sort of foolishness our taxes are paying for.

  2. Josh Breslow Photography Says:

    Dave said it best, “What a waste!” Does somebody have Robert Groves’ email address? I would like to tell him how I feel.

  3. JAG Says:

    Tests have shown that the advance letter increases response rates. You may have known, but for so many people that didn’t know, the advance letter increases response and therefore pays for itself.

  4. TR Says:

    Yeah, I agree with JAG here. The cost of sending this letter out is much, MUCH cheaper than the cost of sending an enumerator to follow up on a form that wasn’t mailed back. If it increases response rates enough, it pays for itself easily.

  5. Suitlandman Says:

    JAG, Without a list of citations and/or links to the scientific evidence, your post is incomplete.

  6. Josh Breslow Photography Says:

    This backs up JAG’s claim…

    Why does the Census Bureau send out so many mailings?

    We find that it is cost effective overall. Getting households to return their questionnaire on time is the key factor for conducting a successful census. When people don’t return their questionnaires by mail, we must send a census worker to their household to obtain their answers. Many times, that requires multiple visits, which can be very expensive.

    The Census Bureau estimates for each percentage point of the population that does not return a questionnaire during the 2010 Census, it costs approximately $75 million dollars to have field representatives make these personal visits to get their information. If the mail return rate increases, then the nonresponse followup workload will decrease reducing the cost of the census.

    Our “multiple contact” mailing strategy was developed to get the highest mail return rate possible. Our studies have shown that mailing a letter telling you that a questionnaire is on the way and a postcard reminding you to send it in, increases the mail return rate. We have found that the second mailing, or replacement mailing, increases the rate of mail return by some 7-10% and eliminates the need to send census workers to many homes, thereby saving millions of taxpayer dollars.


  7. Terry Says:

    I’m sure it is helpful but not convinced of the cost benefit ratio. You’ve already spent millions on your T.V. and radio blitz. Do you really think getting a letter too will sway the behavior of the average recipient?

    For America’s sake please start to utilize some POS data or economic indicators, or public utility data or some more scientifically sound data sources on which to base decisions about how to allocate hundreds of billions of tax-payer dollars. Its’ embarrassing when the government is utilizing more antiquated data capture methods that the average advertising/marketing firm has access to.

  8. GB Says:


    The private sector does not have the bureaucratic and legal obstacles that the government has when collecting data. The multiple-contact strategy is a well-known and scientifically proven method to increase participation in a survey.

  9. JAG Says:

    Here you go, Suitlandman!

  10. JAG Says:

    Here you go Suitlandman!

  11. Suitlandman Says:

    Yeah, the Census Bureau says they did research, but if they have posted the scientific report online,
    I still don’t know where it is. Survey methodology folklore and science are different.

  12. Dave Says:

    Yeah, I’d like to see the data from a source other than the census folks.

    But there’s another issue, too: Public perception. How does it LOOK to spend $85,000,000 on a “letter about a letter” during this economy? I know it sounds silly, but that’s an important issue when dealing with large groups of people. Providing the proof that a census gets better mail-back after an advance letter would help — though to my knowledge that hasn’t been provided — but there’s still the perception issue.

    Look how mad people got about “earmarks” that often don’t actually cost anything at all? Reality is important, but so is perception.

  13. JAG Says:

    Provide by another poster….

    Advance letters improve mailback response rates. See, e.g., Thomas A. Heberlein and Robert Baumgartner, Factors Affecting Response Rates to Mailed Questionnaires: A Quantitative Analysis of the Published Literature, 43 Am. Sociological Rev. 447 (1978). The cost of an advance letter is several orders of magnitude smaller than the cost of sending out an enumerator for nonresponse followup, which means that at the end of the day, advance letters save tax dollars.

  14. Dave Says:

    I read over the abstract and other similar studies referenced by JAG (thanks for that!). I gotta admit, the consensus of the studies supports the “advance letter” concept.

    The response rates for postal questionnaires vary greatly depending on the type of questionnaire, and is increased dramatically when it is sent to someone that WANTS to reply to it. (e.g., sending a questionnaire on air-safety to pilots) Since that variable is so great, I’d like to see evidence that an advance letter has a positive effect of 2% or greater on the census in particular. Unfortunately, we only do one every 10 years, so gathering such data is impossible. (The culture changes enough in 10 years to make results from a past census if not irrelevant, at least not terribly helpful.)

    The benefit has to be greater than the cost + the hit to public perception in order to be worth it. But that’s unknowable. So was it a good gamble? I don’t know, but “yes” is a fair answer.

    I retract my “foolishness” comment, and instead say it was a calculated gamble. I hope it pays off.

  15. Buzz Says:

    What disturbs me is the content of the letter. All it talks about is “government funding” and nothing about the actual Constitutional purpose of the census; that being the apportioning of legislative and electoral representation.

  16. Suitlandman Says:

    Buzz, You tell truth.

    Reapportionment and redistricting are not the only reasons to conduct a census. In the November 2, 2009 LA Times, Gregory Rodriguez wrote “…a well-regulated nation needs to know how many people reside within its territory.” Haiti is an example of a nation whose lack of accurate census data contributes to chaos.

    At a time when our nation needs unity, the 2010 Census communications campaign overemphasizes dividing the population into racial and other competing groups. Let us pray that the 2010 Census advertising campaign does not kindle civil unrest this summer.

  17. Jennifer Says:

    The one thing that stood out in my mind, after I got over the cost issue, is that the letter sent out does not even give an example of what to look for in a week. There is no photo of the actual Census, no explanation of what it will look like or what form it will take. Will it be in a large envelope? Is it folded and stuffed into the size of a junk-letter envelope?
    This truly was a waste of our taxpayer money. If people opened the first letter they will open the second. If they tossed the first one, they will most likely toss the Census, as well. This would have had better results had it been a postcard. Even while throwing out a postcard you will accidentally read something written on it.

  18. Jennifer Says:

    Also-I will not choose one of the options for race on my Census; instead I will opt for the :other: box and write in American. The race issue has gone way too far. They only need to know that I am legal and human; skin color should not be an issue, in my mind.

  19. American Says:

    Fight racist politicians! Mark “Other” and write “American” as your race on the Census 2010. Don’t be placated by politicians, and don’t let them treat you like you’re too stupid to earn money, like you’re too “disadvantaged” make your own because of the color of your skin. Fire racists politicians.

  20. Ron Wright Says:

    @American & @ Jennifer: is this REALLY your contribution to this census dialogue? “Fight racist politicians! Mark “Other” and write “American” as your race on the Census 2010.” This, hopefully, is a satirical comment about our current political climate.
    “The race issue has gone way too far. They only need to know that I am legal and human; skin color should not be an issue, in my mind.” While I personally agree with your sentiment, nonetheless we live in a culture that measures many aspects of our lives in attempts to either: predict patterns, OR discover deficiencies & remedy them, OR decide how to apportion districts, and other measures. On the Census form, the question of race is intended to enumerate the quantity of persons who belong to a given race, not to discriminate against them in hiring practices, nor in housing, nor to exclude them from attending public schools, colleges, universities. It would be a much different world, were people not biased against skin color, but our country is one of many in this world where such prejudice is practiced.

  21. Jennifer Says:

    Prejudice is not practiced in my house, nor in my life. I will not fall for this line : “our country is one of many in this world where such prejudice is practiced.” It is only practiced when people choose to do so and I do not. They need not know our skin color. There should be no distinction according to race. The purpose of the Census’ creation was to collect the amount of people living in a particular area and nothing more. Race does not change the answer to the first question. It never will.

  22. hermes Says:

    Jennifer, that’s an ignorant sentiment. It ignores the fact that prejudice is mainly practiced by people who don’t even know they’re doing it. It’s unconcious, not something most people actively “choose” to do (although some do). And everyone does it to some extent, even you! You can’t just turn it off by jamming your fingers in your ears and chanting “I’m not racist I’m not racist I’m not racist…”

  23. Jennifer Says:

    Actually, you *can* make the choice to be accepting of all people, regardless of race or creed. Try it some time, you may like it.