Census complicated in small towns
- By Melissa Raines
- June 11, 2010 10:33 am EDT
MOUNT VERNON — Some local residents have raised concerns about the way the 2010 Census is being administered. The constitution mandates a census be taken in this country every 10 years, counting every person living in the U.S. to determine representation in congress.
Some residents in the villages of Howard, Danville and Gambier have questioned why they never received their 2010 census forms in their mailboxes as they did in past census years.
“People were wondering why they didn’t get them,” said Howard resident Susan Rogers. Some residents said they thought they may have misplaced them, or that they were lost in the mail.
Rogers was one of several people who inquired at her local post office whether the forms had been delivered.
“I was told that they all came to the post office but they were all sent back because they didn’t have post office boxes on them,” Rogers said. “That’s a waste of taxpayer money.”
Residents in Danville and Gambier report they were told the same thing. A Knox County postal worker told the News as many as 90 percent of the forms received at the post office where he works were returned as “undeliverable” because they were not addressed with post office box numbers.
According to Kim Hunter, media team leader for the U.S. Census Bureau’s Detroit Region which includes Ohio, much of the Knox County area is classified by the census bureau as “update/leave” meaning forms are not mailed to homes but left at the door by an enumerator. The forms can then be mailed in or collected by a census employee.
Some residents interviewed by the News said their forms were left weeks ago at their doors in time to be returned by the April 16 deadline.
Malinda St. Clair of Martinsburg said her form was left at her door. “It was left a few weeks ago,” she said. Norma Simpson of Howard said hers was left as well.
Perhaps adding to the confusion, press releases the census bureau have released since April say residents with post office boxes will automatically have a visit to their home by enumerators to receive and complete their forms.
“Residents that normally pick up their mail from a post office box don’t receive a form in the mail but will be visited by a census taker beginning in May,” reads one release from April.
Michele Lowe, U.S. Census Bureau public information officer, referred to more information provided on the U.S. Census Bureau Web site while speaking by telephone to the News.
These releases repeatedly state that mail customers with post office boxes do not receive forms by mail, but instead receive a face-to-face visit.
An April 7 posting by the census bureau titled, “Some Reasons You’re Not Yet Receiving Your Census Form,” gives possible reasons for not receiving a form.
These include, “You have a post office box in a mailout/mailback area.” The reasoning given is that the census bureau does not mail to post office boxes. “The census is all about counting people where they live and sleep, so we must tie each form to a physical location. Post office boxes are not tied to specific housing units, so we can’t use them to send forms to specific housing units. One of our census workers will visit houses that rely on post office boxes between May 1 and July 10.”
Many of these households have already received a visit from an enumerator, which in some cases was unexpected. Several residents the News spoke with asked why they did not receive some kind of notice they would have an enumerator visit, and wouldn’t be receiving a form in the mail, which they would have preferred.
Jody Weiss of Gambier said she does not like to answer the door when she is not expecting anyone, especially when her husband is not home.
“How come I couldn’t just get the form in the mail and mail it back the way everyone else does,” Weiss asked.
Weiss said if she would have known she needed to call a toll-free number to request a form because she didn’t receive one at her P.O. box, she would have done so.
During a press conference last week, Dr. Robert Groves, director of the U. S. Census Bureaus spoke with journalists across the country via telephone, the Internet, and an audience at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The News asked Groves if he felt the census bureau had done an adequate job of explaining to people in rural areas they would not receive their census forms mailed to their P.O. boxes, but would receive a visit from an enumerator.
‘’Looking back on the 2010 census, I think many of my colleagues and I agree that we could have done better at getting the word out to that population,” Groves said.
“It’s a tough message to get out because it’s scattered throughout the entire country, and there are people with postal boxes who are living next door to people who get their mail delivered there,” he continued.
“So how to get the message out in a non-confusing way is a challenge that we could have done better in 2010, I admit.”
The director explained the bureau’s policy of not mailing census forms to P.O. boxes.
“In addition to counting everyone in the country, we have to place them in a physical location,” Groves explained. “The way we’ve done this since 1970 is to choose their residence as that physical location. Post office boxes can be purchased by anyone anywhere. And so mailing to a postal box doesn’t fulfill that duty for us to know where the person is residing when we mail it to a postal box.”
Why then did the census pay for the postage to mail so many to residents in these areas only to have them returned as “undeliverable?”
According to Hunter, this was a mistake.
“I’m thinking that is an error,” he said.
Residents in update/leave areas should have had their forms delivered “not to their P.O. box, it should have been hand-delivered by a census worker,” Hunter explained.
“That assures us that they get it at a particular time at a particular address, because this is time-based,” he explained.
The census officials interviewed for this story stress that all households in Knox County are being counted.