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2010 census called success on mailback rate, budget

Pronouncing the 2010 census a "resounding success," U.S. Commerce Department Secretary Gary Locke Tuesday said the census operations was largely complete and had come in under budget by at least $1.6 billion.

Locke and U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert Groves praised public participation, census staff for overcoming technical challenges, and a productive and more highly skilled temporary census workforce than decades past.

Groves said small quality control operations continue but that the major bulk of the bureau's work, where 565,000 temporary census workers were sent to 47 million households to conduct the count in person, had been finished.

And because of the higher than expected mailback rate by the public, Groves said the bureau realized about $650 million in savings because fewer workers were needed to go out into the field. Overall, 72 percent of the questionnaires were returned by mail, matching the level in the 2000 census.

Bureau officials said another $800 million in savings occurred because a contingency fund set aside in the event of natural disasters or operational breakdowns wasn't needed. Also $150 million was saved because the counting of Alaska and tribal lands cost less than projected.

Groves also praised 255,000 census "partners," which included those who helped educate the public about the importance of participating in the census - whose population count is used to allocate $400 billion in federal funds to localities annually.

Sandra Dunn, program officer at the Port Washington-based Hagedorn Foundation, part of the Long Island 2010 Census Collaborative that provided $335,000 in grants to nonprofits for census education outreach, said the group "saw tremendous increases, more than we expected, in a number of hard-to-count areas" where minorities, immigrants and the poor live.

She cited increases in the mailback rate of 3 and 4 percentage points in Wyandanch. "In Roosevelt, we saw a tremendous jump, the 2000 [mailback] rate was 58 percent and we went up to 65 percent." Patchogue Village went up 5 percentage points, to 70 percent, she added. Overall, the mailback rate for Long Island was 70 percent - 5 percentage points lower than in 2000.

Terri Ann Lowenthal, a consultant for the Census Project, a group of national organizations championing an accurate census, who also writes a blog about census issues, said nonprofits all across the country helped increase the mail response rate.

Lowenthal said the apparent success of the census operation was reason "for optimism" that it would translate into an accurate census. She added "the jury is still out . . . I think the Census Bureau has reason to be optimistic and proud. We just all have to wait now until the numbers come."

By law, the census must be delivered to the president by Dec. 31.

WHAT'S NEXT

The 2010 census is largely completed, but the U.S. Census Bureau needs to double-check some addresses and verifysome of their data.

CHECKS OF VACANT HOUSING UNITS: The bureau is 99 percent finished checking 5.6 million households that were classified as either vacant or nonexistent during the original field work. Information from another new 3.1 million addresses added to the bureau's master list need to be verified by census takers.FIELD VERIFICATION: Census workers must verify whether an address listed on a "Be Counted" census form - which were distributed at public places like libraries and supermarkets but do not contain the bar codes used on forms sent to homes - actually exists. Some 400,000 addresses must be checked.

INCOMPLETE FORMS: The Census Bureau will be trying to get more information from 415,000 households who returned either blank or incomplete census forms. In addition, bureau workers are checking on 300,000 housing units that census takers classified as occupied but lacking household information.

MEASURING THE CENSUS' ACCURACY: Experienced interviewers are to be sent to 187,000 households to measure "just how good the census is" and measure the quality of the information collected by census takers, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said.

ALL VERIFICATION and double checking is scheduled to be done by the end of September.

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