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Help Us Model Predicted Mail Return Rates by Participating in the Census Challenge

Thu Sep 27 2012
Tom Mesenbourg
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We could not produce statistics about our nation’s people, places and economy without your help. Your participation in our surveys gives us the information that tells us how we are doing as a nation. And in turn, we are able to paint a portrait of not only our nation, but your community.

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Your participation is vital to the data we collect. But we also know you have a lot of great ideas to make us a better, more efficient agency that will continue to produce high-quality statistics.

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We want to tap into those great ideas and have created the first Census challenge—to find a better way to predict mail return rates for small geographic areas, like neighborhoods, based on their demographic and socioeconomic characteristics.  This prize competition is authorized under Section 105 of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2011, Public Law 111-358 (2011).

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The 2010 Census achieved a return rate of 79.3 percent, which was the rate of returned forms for all occupied housing units. However, census and survey return rates vary considerably across geographic areas. For example, 2010 Census mail-form return rates ranged across states from a high of 82 percent to a low of 65 percent, with even more variation at the neighborhood or census tract level. The Census Return Rate Challenge asks participants to model these variations using predictive variables found in the updated Census Planning Database which includes information from both the 2010 Census and the American Community Survey.

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During the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau saved about $85 million in operational costs for every percentage point increase in the nation’s participation rate by mail. A postage paid envelope cost taxpayers 42 cents, compared to $57 for an enumerator to visit the household. The winning model will help us develop more efficient and effective data collection strategies for both our ongoing household surveys and the 2020 Census.

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We are posting the challenge on <>, an online platform for predictive modeling competitions. Already, there are 86 teams, 98 participants and 533 entries, allowing us to crowdsource the best solution for how to tackle this challenge.

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There is still time to participate. The challenge ends Nov. 1, 2012. Not only do participants get to challenge themselves, they could be rewarded for it. A total of $25,000 in prize money will be awarded for the best submissions.

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This challenge is just one way the Census Bureau is changing how we do business, allowing you to be an engine of innovation. I am excited about the initiatives we currently have underway that promise to transform our methods, processes, and products and I hope you will help us, by entering the competition today.

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For more information, please visit the Federal Register Notice and Census Bureau Research site.

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