Bearing badges and confidentiality notices, more than 1,600 U.S. Census takers will converge on the city of Richmond and surrounding localities from May 1 to July 10, knocking on the doors of folks who fail to mail in their forms by the end of April.
Virginia had a good track record for mail response in 2000, with a return rate of 72 percent, five points ahead of the national average. But the city of Richmond came in below 50 percent, says George Jamerson, manager of the Richmond census office.
The Henrico census office is a bit more of a teacher's pet, with 78 percent of residents (in the counties of Henrico, Hanover, Chesterfield, Powhatan, Goochland, Amelia and the city of Colonial Heights) having turned in their 2000 forms, according to Bruce Budny, that census office's manager.
Budny will have 1,200 temporary employees, including 850 census takers, or enumerators, who go into neighborhoods; Jamerson has 750 enumerators. The pay isn't bad — $18 an hour in Richmond, $16.25 an hour in the Henrico district.
Sometimes enumerators go out in teams or groups, either for convenience's sake or because of safety concerns. And Budny notes that high priority is placed on trickier-to-count populations, like college students, who need to be counted early in April, before their academic year ends. Homeless people are counted at soup kitchens and other gathering places. "The most important thing is that we count everybody," Budny says.
The federal government has high hopes for return-rate improvement this year; the forms have only 10 questions, and advertising is heavier this year. The information gleaned from the forms determines representation in Congress.
Money is also at stake; the federal government allocates about $435 billion to localities based on their populations, and for every 1 percent of improvement in the mail-return rate, the census bureau saves $70 million to $90 million
in field work. Your survey should have arrived in the mail in March; if you have questions, visit 2010.census.gov .