Census Bureau Airs Radio Ads in States With Low Response Rates

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The Census Bureau launched a new radio ad campaign last week in nine states that are lagging behind in returning their census forms. Return rates may be low because of criticism from legislators and citizens who said some of the long form's questions may intrude on their privacy.

The states include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia.

Census officials said part of the problem is that rural households get mail delivery sporadically or through a post office box. The department began delivering census forms to homes with street addresses in March.

Otherwise, Americans are returning their 2000 Census forms despite criticism from legislators and citizens who think some of the long form's questions intrude on their privacy, Census officials said last week.

Direct marketers that use and suppliers that sell aggregated data from the long form fear the negative publicity may mean fewer people will fill out the form completely -- or may not send it back at all -- causing the 2000 Census to be less accurate.

So far, 57 percent of the population has returned a form. Kenneth Prewitt, director of the Census Bureau, said the long-form response rate is 12 percentage points behind the short-form response rate: 48 percent to 60 percent. However, he said it's too early to draw any conclusions because the 52-question long forms are always returned last since people put them off until the last minute.

"The widespread attack on the long form could have serious consequences," Prewitt said. "The states that lag behind the general response rate are generally clustered in the South and Southwest. It suggests the very same sort of demographic and attitudinal characteristics that led to lower response rates in 1990."

As previously reported, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-MS, and other Republican legislators advised households late last month not to answer long-form questions they feel invade their privacy.

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