Census forms due today; Minn. among leading states

U.S. Census 2010 form
Copies of the 2010 Census forms shown during a news conference Monday, March 15, 2010.
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

Today is Census day -- the day 2010 Census forms were supposed to be mailed back.

As of Wednesday, 56 percent of the households in Minnesota had returned the forms. That's higher than the current national participation rate of 52 percent, but not as high as officials are expecting it to be.

It's easy to keep track of Census response rates. The Census Bureau has an interactive map on its website that gives daily updates.

So far, officials say the participation rate is slightly behind what they'd expected, but they know that forms are still coming in. Besides, U.S. Census Bureau Regional Director Dennis Johnson, says this is just the first phase of the decennial count.

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"The bottom line is we'll count everybody. It's just a matter of how we do that," Johnson said. "The less expensive way is for people to fill out their form and mail it in. The more costly way would be for us to knock on the door and collect the information that way."

The Census Bureau has spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting the decennial count in an effort to get at least 67 percent of households nationwide to mail the forms back. They've based their budget for Census takers on that figure.

The more households that mail the forms back, the fewer doors Census takers have to knock on when they hit the streets early next month. To help boost the mail-back rate, Johnson says the Census Bureau is sending out a second form to some households this week.

"We found through studies and even looking at censuses being conducted in other countries, that it actually saves money to redistribute those questionnaires in certain areas and the response rate increases again, it increases significantly," he said. "So that it more than pays itself off, it actually saves money in the long run."

The upper Midwest has been leading the nation in returning Census forms, but Minnesota is currently lagging behind its neighbors, encircled by the four of the current top five leaders in participation, ranging from 58 percent in Wisconsin and Iowa to 62 percent in South Dakota.

State Demographer Tom Gillaspy says historically, Minnesota's response rate is high.

"There's a strong relationship between folks returning their Census form on time and the quality of the count. The states that have the highest return rates always have the most accurate count in the census," Gillaspy said.

In Minnesota, the highest response rate is 69 percent, coming from Brown County in the southern part of the state. Some of the lowest response rates are in Cook and Lake of the Woods counties in northern Minnesota. As of Wednesday, Lake of the Woods County was at 26 percent and Cook County was at 32 percent. Officials say that may be due to the high number of seasonal homes in those areas.

Census figures help determine how more than $400 billion in federal funds will be distributed to tribal, state and local governments. The figures also determine how many seats each state will have in Congress for the next 10 years. Minnesota will find out in December if it will lose one of its eight seats.