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They're in the mail!
U.S. Postal Service workers today began to deliver 98 million Census 2000 questionnaires to about 83 percent of the nation's residences in the first national census of the new century.
The questionnaire packages consist of about 83 million short forms (seven questions) and 15 million long forms (52 questions).
Census enumerators, meanwhile, are personally delivering about 22 million additional forms to homes that do not have street-name and house-number addresses, mostly in rural and remote areas. These represent about 17 percent of the nation's housing units.
"Filling out a census questionnaire and mailing it back is easy," said Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt. "The short form asks for less information than is found on your driver's license. It takes about 10 minutes to fill out the short-form questionnaire and about 38 minutes to fill out the long-form questionnaire.
"About 99 percent of Americans will be able to mail back their questionnaire. The rest will simply give their answers to an enumerator, who will record them on the form."
Although the rate varies according to population density, in most areas about 5 out of 6 homes will receive the short form, while the remaining 1 out of 6 will receive the long form.
The questionnaires were preceded by an advance letter sent last week giving residents the option of asking for questionnaires in five languages besides English: Spanish, Tagalog, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese. Later this month, the Census Bureau will send a reminder card asking residents to mail back the form.
People are asked to mail the forms back as soon as possible.
In January, Prewitt challenged state, local and tribal governments to surpass their 1990 mail response rate by at least 5 percentage points. A higher response rate would mean that the Census Bureau would not have to hire as many enumerators to visit households that do not mail back the form. It also could reduce the expected cost of the census, now set at $6.5 billion.
In 1990, the response rate was 65 percent nationally, but varied widely from place to place. Census Bureau officials, concerned that census forms may get lost in the rising deluge of junk mail, have forecast a response rate of 61 percent for 2000.
The Census Bureau has taken several steps to make responding easier. The questionnaires are shorter and easier to complete than in 1990. Respondents may call a toll-free number listed on the questionnaire for assistance in filling out the form. Help also is available in other languages.
Respondents may visit any of thousands of questionnaire assistance centers, open evenings and weekends, to get help. At all the centers, non-English-speaking respondents may acquire a language guide in any of 37 languages that will allow them to see the questions in their own language. Certain centers will have guides in an additional 12 languages. The guides also are on the Internet at <http://www.2000.census.gov/iqa/guides.html>.
People may view the questionnaires on the Census Bureau's Internet site at <http://www.2000.census.gov> and even fill out the short form online.
During March, the Census Bureau also conducts special operations to count people with no fixed address or who live in dormitories, nursing homes, prisons, shelters, trailer parks, transient housing and other group or nonstandard housing.
Census data are confidential and by law may not be shared with other agencies, law-enforcement organizations, the courts or any other organization. Under the provisions of Title 13 of the U.S. Code, Census Bureau employees are sworn to keep the data confidential and face a fine of up to $5,000 and five years in prison if they disclose personal information about respondents.
For the first time, respondents may identify themselves as being more than one race. People may check off as many race categories as they wish.
Hispanics may be of any race; therefore, there is one question on Hispanic origin and another on race on the questionnaire.
The questionnaire has room for information on six household members. Where there are more than six members, respondents fill in the additional names, and a Census Bureau representative will contact them for more information.
The short form contains six population questions and one housing question. The long form has 31 population questions (including the six short-form population questions) and 21 housing questions (including the short-form housing question). Questions are included on the census questionnaire only if they serve a legal or programmatic need. For information on the legal or programmatic bases of the questions, see the Census Bureau's Internet site at <http://www.census.gov/dmd/www/content.htm>.
A complete set of residency rules telling where students, nursing home residents, military personnel, "snowbirds" and others are counted can be found on the Census Bureau's Internet site at <http://www.census.gov/population/www/censusdata/resid_rules.html>.
First results of Census 2000 will be the state population totals used to reapportion the U.S. House of Representatives, which must be delivered to the President by Dec. 31, 2000. More detailed data used to redraw U.S. and state legislative districts must be delivered to governors and state majority and minority leaders by April 1, 2001.
The Census Bureau is still hiring workers for census jobs. Check the Census Bureau's Internet site <http://www.census.gov/jobs2000> or call 1-888-325-7733 for job information.
The Census Bureau guarantees that the answers given on census forms are kept strictly confidential. Information collected in Census 2000 will provide local area data needed for communities to receive federal program funds and for private sector and community planning.