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Why Use Advance Letters?

Thu Feb 18 2010
Robert Groves
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In these days of concerns over spending by the Federal government, I am not surprised by emails I receive questioning why the Census Bureau sends out letters in a separate mailing in advance of the 2010 Census form package.

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This is a practice that was the clear conclusion of prior research, both at the Census Bureau and at private sector survey research organizations. The advance letter we send before the questionnaire packet is an attempt to politely announce the forthcoming request to complete the census form. It functions to ask the household to be on the watch for the package when it comes. It functions to verify that the upcoming request will be a legitimate one from the official agency conducting the 2010 Census.

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Years of research have shown that higher percentages of people receiving the mail questionnaire return a completed form after they receive the advance letter compared to those who receive merely the census form with a simultaneous request to return it. Every one percent of the US households that return a completed questionnaire will save $85 million in taxpayer money that would have to be spent sending people out to interview households in person. The research is clear that the advance letter can save money for all of us.

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The advance letter is also a way for us to protect the American public from any scams that use the census to exploit people. The scam artists don’t take the time, nor do they exercise the courtesy that we do, to alert the households of an upcoming request.

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This feature of the 2010 Census is a cost-saver in the long run.

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Please submit any questions pertaining to this post to

Director Robert Groves

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