Census forms to be distributed across campus

Credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Contributing Editor Credit: Patrick Gage Kelley/Contributing Editor

The director of the United States Census, Robert Groves, gave a lecture at Carnegie Mellon on Thursday, March 25. The lecture took place a week and a half before the census forms were to be distributed throughout campus dorms on April 6. This continued a series of campus-wide initiatives to encourage census response, including a freshman seminar on the census taught by statistics professor Stephen Fienberg.

Groves’ lecture, titled “A Society Measuring Itself: Census 2000” focused largely on the bureau’s current ad campaigns, specifically highlighting the attempt to reach a diverse audience. Groves explained, “There are very few products where your target audience is everyone in the country.” The 2000 Census was the first where paid advertising was used. It was also the first year with a recorded increase in response rate between censuses since 1960. In 2010, the bureau invested in advertisements targeting specific groups in the U.S., most notably with ads in Spanish.

Students rank among the more difficult groups to count. Most current undergraduate students lived at home during the 2000 census, and many are confused as to where they should be counted in 2010. All students at Carnegie Mellon will have the opportunity to be counted within Pittsburgh’s distribution of the census. Dorm students will receive their forms from and return them to to their resident assistants. Groves joked that while the student form is different from those sent to the majority of Americans, it is very similar to the one used in prisons. He noted, however, that off-campus students have lower response rates than do their dorm counterparts.

Senior mechanical engineering student Kay Csuri sent her form in before the April 1 non-dorm deadline. “I think it is our civic duty and I like the idea that I am going to be counted.”

Many universities have organized programs to increase knowledge of the census process and to increase student response rates. Colleges across Boston have started a cross-collegiate competition aimed at having the highest census response rate.

Carnegie Mellon held its freshman seminar focused on the census for the first time this year. Fienberg believes the course is “especially interesting because we get to read and hear about what is happening in the census — in the field nationally, locally, and on campus — and we get to combine this with history, action projects, and technical details about statistical issues.” Students in the course not only got to meet the current bureau director, but also met Barbara Everitt Bryant and Kenneth Prewitt, the directors from 1990 and 2000, respectively.

Pittsburgh has organized numerous events, including “March to the Mailbox,” an event where community members walk across Pittsburgh encouraging those in low-response areas to return their forms. For every 1 percent increase in forms mailed back, the United States saves about $85 million.

This fiscal year, the 2010 Census budget came in around $7.2 billion. However, if everyone in the country returned their forms, the government would save about $1.5 billion. Mailing the form costs about 42 cents, minimal in comparison to the $60 it would cost to send a census employee to a citizen’s door — something the bureau is required to do when individuals fail to respond. The money saved is sent back to the U.S. Treasury and, as Groves highlighted, mailing in your form means “you’ve done your own little part in attacking the deficit.”

This year, the bureau is sending replacement forms during the first weeks of April, hoping to increase response rates of those who might have lost or misplaced their original census forms. One concern for this year’s census, however, is that there are currently a larger number of vacant homes in the U.S. than in 2000, due to the economic recession.

Currently, Carnegie Mellon’s response rate is at about 56 percent, about even with the nation’s 54 percent.

Current response rates, complete census information, and directions for submitting the census can be found on the official government website: