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.

MyTwoCensus Editorial: The Census Bureau PR Machine is at it again…Return rates for 2010 are not better than return rates for 2000, and here’s why

In mid and late March, the return rate for the 2010 Census wasn’t looking good. In fact, it appeared that return rates from the 2000 Census (that lacked this year’s multimillion-dollar ad campaign) would exceed the 2010 Census rates. In a comment posted on this blog on March 25, 2010, Steve Jost, the Census Bureau’s Associate Director of Communications wrote “It is tricky business comparing 2010 to 2000 for lots of reasons…2000 had a Long Form and a Short Form. 2010 is a Short Form only Census.” This is an excellent and true point. (The long and short forms for the 2000 Census can be found HERE.)

In 2000, some 16% of decennial census questionnaires were “long form” versions of the census with more than 100 questions — many of which take a significant amount of time to answer. This year, the census is the shortest ever, with only 10 questions. However, since the public was informed that 72% of American households mailed back there 2010 Census forms, the Census Bureau has had no problem comparing apples to oranges as it praises this year’s participation rates over those from 2000. My point is clear: In the 2000 Census, approximately 20 million households received the long form.  Any statistician or communications expert will tell you that it is infinitely more difficult to convince someone to complete a 100+ question form than a 10 question form.

So when the Census Bureau claims that it has exceeded its 2000 return rates, let’s not kid ourselves: In 2010 it’s like every household has to learn first grade math, whereas in 2000, some 20 million households had to learn calculus.

Here are some screenshots from the official Census Bureau analysis of the 2000 Census Mail Return Rates to illustrate my point:

The chart above illustrates that those people receiving the long form in 2000 participated in the census at significantly lower levels than those people who received the short form.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

14 Responses to “MyTwoCensus Editorial: The Census Bureau PR Machine is at it again…Return rates for 2010 are not better than return rates for 2000, and here’s why”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I believe it.

    Inconsistent, disorganized, must use personal phone number, some crew members are bullying/backstabbing each other for CL Asst. and/or CL jobs.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    No binders.

  3. Anonymous NE Tri-state area Says:

    Like I posted previously…it comes from the top. LCO’s are being pressured to “get the numbers” at all costs….

  4. Anonymous Says:

    May 4, Tuesday: Macon, GA area -
    Article states that a Census worker drove up to his house and ran over his small dog (killing the dog).

    Please be kind (and cautious) to animals.

  5. Steve Jost Says:


    1. You are mistaken when you write that the 2000 Census lacked a multimillion dollar ad campaign. The 2000 Census was the first to use paid advertising, with a total media buy of $110 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $160 million in 2010 dollars.

    2. You are once again carelessly conflating Participation Rates, Return Rates, and Response rates. They are three different measures.

    3. You are once again unfairly comparing 2010 rates for March and April with those from December 2000.

    4. The 2000 Participation Rates referenced on our website and all our press releases are for the Short Form only. Your claim that we included long form performance in our published rates is false. The short form only 2000 Participation Rate was 72%. For both the Long form and the Short form it was 69% Director Groves spent some time in his press conference of last week explaining that difference and how using only the Short Form comparison is a “stretch goal”, especially given all the societal factors contributing to a decline in participation of surveys of all kinds over the last 10 years.

  6. Bob Aganoosh Says:

    Mr. Jost, in the April 28, 2010 Washington Post article quoted below, was Dr. Groves mistaken in implying that the 2010 census has a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign that the 2000 census did not have? Or am I reading it wrong?

    “Groves said he anticipates critics will question why this year’s results only matched the 2000 response rates despite a multimillion-dollar advertising and outreach campaign, but he called this year’s results “unbelievable” because survey response rates have dropped significantly in the past decade.”

  7. JAG Says:

    I recall a Super Bowl ad in 2000… ended with a door to a janitor’s closet opening in a school and a small classroom inside. Bob, I interpret that statement differently….despite the ad campaign in 2010, they only matched the 2000 results.

  8. I Am A Statistician Says:

    There was no Census 2000 participation rate. Keep it real, Steve.

  9. GS-X Says:

    Let us not forget the many Living Quarters missing from the denominator of the participation rates.
    This includes Housing Units and Group Quarters that were not listed on the Master Address File before
    Address Canvassing began and those that were incorrectly deleted by Address Canvassing. Many of the residents of these Living Quarters were perfectly happy they did not receive a census form.
    How much lower would the participation rate be if the MAF was complete and the denominator was correct?

  10. Jay Morgan Says:

    I filled out and mailed back the form that showed up in my snailmail box.

    Gave all info legally required: how many people live at This Address?

    That was weeks ago.

    Now here today comes little Miss One Third My Age, flipping what might have been an identifier card in front of my eyes too fast for me to be able to see/read ANYthing on it. For all I know it was her coupon for a Big Mac.
    Anyway she said some stuff about being here to represent the census bureau and, while staring at the address info on my door, asked me if my address was my address. Duuuh…
    I said twice that I had already filled out and mailed back all legally-required info which is THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE THAT LIVE AT ANY ADDRESS. Guess she didn’t hear me; she started in with some stuff about “It’ll only take 10 minutes,” whine, so I told her again: “I filled out and mailed back the form that came in the mail and I put on it all required information.”
    “Well,” Miss O T M A asked, “how many people live here?”
    “I guess you didn’t hear me. I already told you I filled out the mailed form. If you turn in your little form with answers to your questions, it’ll mean that the apparent population numbers WILL be incorrect.”

    “That’s why we put your name on the form.” (That’s the child who interrupted my day…in case I have to say so).

    “The form I already mailed in,” my tone doing what I can’t do here… underline my words… “did not legally require and did not get my name. Yours isn’t going to, either.”

    Girl had got me rolling words and I wasn’t done. “I can tell you about yourself, and I never saw you before in my life. Obviously you are still in school” (the bookbag sloppy-slung on one shoulder gave her away for that one), “you live in what you like to call ‘The good side of town,’ and sometime before knocking on my door you removed two nose rings and put them away somewhere.”
    Little Miss started to open her mouth and I raised a hand in Wait A Minute, I’m Not Done mode. “I have told you several times now that I filled out the mailed form, I sent the thing back in, and now I’m telling you I’m done. Good Bye.”

    Went back inside with the aid of my cane, shut the door, watched her stare stupidly through my front window as she wandered away.

    I thought nothing could have been worse than when in the census prior to this one, the cretin “responsible” for the area where I lived illegally changed the info I had put on the form and was stupid enough to tell me what she had done.
    Clearly, if unaccompanied children are being sent out to re-do what’s already been done (apparently no regard for their safety), the children haven’t any idea who might answer a door and say “Sure, come on inside” and the children might vanish in some dangerous neighborhoods, there’s something hugely wrong with the current system.

    I didn’t answer Child when she demanded my name and no one supposedly from the Census Bureau is going to get any more info out of me than what I’ve already submitted. And no, my name is not the one I had to put in that window above this space.
    I say it again: all that’s legally required is the number of people who may reside at a particular address.

  11. GS-X Says:

    Enumerators, without being disrespectful of Jay Morgan’s possibly misinformed politics, I think you’ll find
    old people can be the nastiest residents to enumerate. But nasty as residents of the United States can be,
    many times they are telling you Enumerators the truth. Ask yourself if you are counting or overcounting.
    You are going to run into Refusals. Do not take it personally. Do not argue. Go to the next address.

  12. END THE CENSUS Says:

    So the great Steve Jost is reading here why don’t you pay attention to what’s really going on in the Springdale Arkansas L C O.

  13. END THE CENSUS Says:

    Trying to tell us we’re ON CALL 24 7 no we’re not, it’s illegal to make us work after dark. Don’t you know it’s DANGEROUS! Stop the lies. End the census.

  14. Census Worker Says:

    Hey, END THE CENSUS, just like any other job you are free to quit if you don’t like it. No employer, even the US Government, owes you anything. Man up and work. Stop hiding behind a friggin’ computer.