Census Bureau Misses Chance to Create Make-Work Jobs


In my mailbox yesterday, addressed to "Resident":

You probably got one too! Apparently, it's Next-Week-Is-Census-Day Day!

Once the initial "you have got to be kidding me" response subsided, I called up the folks at the Census Bureau and they were kind enough to send me their canned response to the "are you freaking kidding me?" calls and emails they have been getting all day. Excerpted below:

Thank you for your email.  We here at the Census Bureau certainly understand your concern, and I want to assure you we care a great deal about being good stewards of the taxpayer's money….

Based on historical response rates, we expect roughly two thirds of households will mail back their form.  The rest we will have to send an enumerator to collect the data required by the Constitution.  You can imagine that follow-up is an expensive proposition.  In fact, every one percent increase in the number of households who mail back the form saves the taxpayers about $85 million in expensive door-to-door follow up.  That's why we advertise and promote, to increase the mail back response rate and help save on expensive labor to follow up.  

We have extensive research that shows additional mailings alerting households to the arrival of the census form increase response rates by about 6 to 12 percentage points. The savings from that increase more than pay for these mailings. It costs about $85 million to print and mail the advance letter and reminder postcard.  The potential increase in response rates demonstrated by our research could result in a savings of more than $500 million….

The total we spend on all promotion and advertising is about one dollar per person in the U.S.   It costs just 42 cents to mail back the form.  But it costs $57 for follow up with non-responding households, many of which we must visit several times to reach someone at home….

We appreciate your civic minded spirit, and your concern for our current fiscal situation.  I hope this information helps explain the steps we are taking to reduce the burden on taxpayers of meeting our Constitutional mandate to count every person in the country.

Not bad, actually. Also, I reached a human being immediately when I called the (easily findable) Census office number, and he was able to promptly answer my question, which virtually never happens in government bureaucracy PR offices.

My only remaining question: What about the lost stimulus effect of sending out all those official "enumerators" to count the recalcitrant? All those make work government jobs, lost! Unavoidable conclusion: This startling instance of government efficiency is ruining our economy and keeping unemployment high.