Commerce Secretary Releases Results From Census 2000

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Nearly 7 of 10 homes in the U.S. 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, the U.S. Commerce Department's Census Bureau said yesterday.

In addition, Census Bureau director Kenneth Prewitt said that for the first time in history, the response rate improved over the prior census. In 1970, for example, the response rate was 78 percent; in 1980, 75 percent; and in 1990, 65 percent.

The updated rate represents the percentage of housing units that mailed back a questionnaire, filed over the Internet, completed a form over the telephone or returned a "Be Counted" form obtained from a neighborhood assistance center. The Census Bureau projected a response rate of 61 percent for budget purposes, and the response exceeded this percentage, as well as the projections of Congress, and the General Accounting Office.

The public continued to return questionnaires well past the mid-April cutoff in numbers exceeding anything seen in past censuses, Prewitt said and "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."

He said that census-takers had fewer households to contact, "allowing us to concentrate our staff and improve our follow-up operations," he said. "A good census got better when our census-takers found the same public spirit during this phase. People wanted to be included."

The numbers are good news for direct marketers, who often use census information to fill in missing pieces of large consumer databases and for market research. Population data from the Census will determine the flow of federal dollars for schools, roads and emergency services throughout the nation.

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.

Insiders said part of the success for the Census may stem from an aggressive marketing approach the Census used this time that including television commercials, a 'Census in Schools' program and a rolling Census 2000 Road Tour, all to raise awareness of the importance of responding to Census 2000.

Now statisticians are sifting through data to check their accuracy, and demographers are analyzing numbers to search for trends. Those results, which will reveal the actual head count of the nation's population, by law must be on President Clinton's desk before Dec. 31. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that those figures must be used to reapportion the 435 seats in the House of Representatives.

In March, the Census Bureau will release total population numbers classified by race, gender, age and ethnicity, down to block levels. These are the numbers that states will use for redistricting. Population figures, adjusted by using a statistical method known as sampling, are scheduled for release by April 1. Other data will be released in waves in the months and years following.

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