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More than 50 percent of the nation's households have returned their 2010 Census forms, just weeks after about 134 million questionnaires were mailed or hand-delivered to homes across the country, according to mail participation rates recorded Tuesday.
Leading the way were five central and upper Midwestern states: South Dakota (62 percent), North Dakota (61 percent), Nebraska (60 percent), Iowa (58 percent) and Wisconsin (58 percent).
"We're off to a great start, but we still have a ways to go to before getting a complete count of the nation," Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said. "If everyone in the nation took the 10 minutes needed to fill out and mail back their 2010 Census form, we could cut the cost of conducting the census by $1.5 billion."
The emphasis on encouraging mail participation in the census is a practical one. For every percentage point increase in mail response, taxpayers will save an estimated $85 million in federal funds. Those funds would otherwise be required to send census takers to collect census responses in person from households that don't mail back the form. After the 2000 Census, the Census Bureau was able to return $305 million in savings to the federal Treasury because mail rates exceeded expectations -- a move the Census Bureau would like to repeat in 2010.
Groves expressed concern about several states with areas that have some of the nation's lowest mail participation rates. Parts of Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana lag behind the rest of the country. The participation rate in Miami, for example, was 38 percent on Tuesday.
"There's still time to fill out and mail back the census questionnaire," Groves. "Every household that fails to send back their census form by mail must be visited by a census taker starting in May -- at a significant taxpayer cost. The easiest and best way to be counted in the census is to fill out and return your form by mail."
The Census Bureau is urging communities nationwide to take charge of their census mail participation rates. Anyone can visit the 2010 Census Web site to see how well their state, county or neighborhood is participating in the census. From the same interactive rate map, anyone can also embed a Participation Rate Tracker "widget" on their Web site that will display an area's latest participation rates.
To find and embed a state-wide rate: