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Nearly 7 of 10 homes in the United States filled out and returned a Census 2000 questionnaire for a final response rate of 67 percent, 2 percentage points over the rate for the 1990 census, according to the U.S. Commerce Department's Census Bureau. For the first time in history, the response rate improved over the immediately prior census.
Thirteen of the nation's 15 most populous cities equaled or exceeded their 1990 response rates as did 14 of the 15 most populous counties. Five states and nearly 9,300 other governmental units did even better, meeting a Census Bureau challenge to better their 1990 response rates by 5 percentage points or more.
"Well done, America!" said Commerce Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. "This successful once-in-a-decade civic ceremony was a great way to start the new century as the nation came together to participate. Americans from all walks of life heard the call and responded."
Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs Robert J. Shapiro said, "Census 2000 mobilized and energized over 140,000 civic, religious, business and neighborhood organizations to reach out to tens of millions of families. This census was a model of civic engagement by the government."
"Civic obligation, contrary to skeptical voices, is alive and well across America's communities," said Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt. "The nation ended a three-decade decline in response rates; it even reversed that decline. In 1970, the response rate was 78 percent; in 1980, 75 percent; and in 1990, 65 percent. For 2000, the prediction was that it would only be 61 percent. In this context, the 67 percent response rate is an unexpected, extraordinary public achievement."
The updated rate represents the percentage of housing units that mailed back a questionnaire, filed it over the Internet, completed a form over the telephone or returned a "Be Counted" form obtained from a neighborhood assistance center. Prewitt noted that the public continued to return questionnaires well past the mid-April cutoff in numbers exceeding anything seen in past censuses.
America's response exceeded the expectations of the Congress, the General Accounting Office and the Census Bureau itself. The higher-than-expected mail return of census forms had a major, positive impact on the follow-up phase of the census in May and June when census-takers went door-to-door to obtain a completed questionnaire for households who did not initially respond.
"Our census-takers had fewer households to contact, allowing us to concentrate our staff and improve our follow-up operations," Prewitt said. "A good census got better when our census-takers found the same public spirit during this phase. People wanted to be included."
Of America's 15 most populous cities, 13 equaled or exceeded their 1990 rate. In addition, 73 of the 100 most populous cities equaled or beat their 1990 rate.
Thirty-eight of the nation's most populous cities achieved response rates above the national average of 67 percent. One city with a 1 million-plus population had a rate above 70 percent — San Diego, with a rate of 73 percent or 6 percentage points above its 1990 response rate.
Two California cities — Santa Ana and Anaheim — and Boston, on the other side of the country, led the nation's largest cities in gains between 1990 and 2000. Three other large California cities also made the list of those showing the greatest gains among the nation's 100 largest cities. Below we show the top 14.
All but one of the 15 most populous counties surpassed their 1990 rate. In the top 100, 82 counties equaled or beat their 1990 rates.
Two of the nation's most populous counties — Macomb County, Mich., and Fairfax County, Va. — achieved response rates of better than 80 percent and others had rates in the high 70s. Four counties of 1 million-plus population show up on the list of the highest achievers among the nation's 100 largest.
Some of the nation's most populous counties — including eight with 1 million or more people — showed the greatest change between 1990 and 2000 among the 100 largest.
Following the pattern of previous censuses, midwestern states led the nation in responding to the census. Iowa, with a response rate of 76 percent, was the highest, followed closely by Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin at 75 percent and South Dakota at 74 percent. In all, 14 states had a response rate of 70 percent or more; nine were in the Midwest, two were in the Northeast, two in the West and one in the South.
Five states met the Census Bureau's "90 Plus 5" challenge issued to communities across the nation by Prewitt last January: California (70 percent), Massachusetts (69 percent), Rhode Island (67 percent) and Nevada and Wyoming (both at 66 percent). The "90 Plus 5" campaign challenged governmental units across the country to increase their Census 2000 response rates by at least 5 percentage points over 1990. Including these states, 9,294 governmental units met or exceeded this goal: 420 counties, 8,837 cities and 32 tribal areas.
View the response rates for states, counties, cities, tribal areas and census tracts on the Census Bureau's Web site <http://www.census.gov>.
Detailed tables are included in a special supplement to the news release. Contact the Public Information Office at 301-457-3691.