An Overview of Undercounts

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

“… In 2000 only about 70 percent of the population returned their information, leaving several areas seriously under-counted and under-represented …”

I’ve recently read many stories that don’t reflect how the 2010 Census will actually be conducted. The quote above suggests that the final census counts are based only on the questionnaires that are completed and mailed back by households. That is not correct.

If a household doesn’t mail back the questionnaire by the third week of April 2010, a trained Census Bureau enumerator will visit the household, starting in May 2010. Enumerators will try six times if necessary to reach a knowledgeable household member, visiting housing units multiple days at different hours. When the enumerator makes contact, he or she will collect the census data by interview. If enumerators can’t contact a household, they will seek information in any way possible to estimate the number of people in the household.

At the end of this process, every household will have some information about its occupants recorded.

On the other hand, we have learned that the best – and certainly most cost-effective – information we obtain comes from questionnaires mailed back by households. So, the message we all need to promote is that returning the completed questionnaire is the best thing to do for the success of the 2010 Census.

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27 Responses to An Overview of Undercounts

  1. Want to Know says:

    Do the census forms come with pre-paid postage for mailback or does the household have to put a postage stamp on it?

  2. kev@censusstaff says:

    The 2010 Census package that comes in the mail includes a postage-paid envelope. For similar questions please visit the Census Question & Answer Center at

  3. Cleri says:

    The census bureau seems to have a logical way of reaching residents by mailing the questionnaires and visiting households. I think the persistence of the Census Bureau will result in the successful collection of data but it seems unrealistic to count every single person living in the United States. What about people who are not part of a household? Are homeless people counted in the census? If a person doesn’t have a home, how will a Census Bureau enumerator reach him/her? From what I understand, states want to count as many people as they can in order to be better represented in the House of Representatives. It seems that states try to count everybody because the bigger the population, the more powerful the state is in Congress.

  4. Jessica M. says:

    I think it’s a very good idea for the Federal government to send trained officials to any household that did not send in their census data. This will hopefully enable a greater portion of the population to be counted accurately, considering that it doesn’t cost anything and the survey only requires that 10 questions are answered. However, I have a few questions. How will the Census Committee account for those who don’t have a household? I am aware that there will be community centers set up, but is there any way to verify that all the homeless are accounted for? How about those who are not currently living in their homes, such as college students or those who travel constantly for their jobs?

  5. Anna S says:

    The census I believe would be dramatically improved and more effective if a form was available online. We live in a society where we work around convenience and placing the form online would increase participants dramatically. For those without computers, or those who do not trust the online form, would still be able to mail their form. These two methods would make the census a lot more public friendly. People do not want to be bothered by strangers coming to their doors looking for personal information. What if the person is a fraud and is a criminal? Most people will not feel safe in letting a complete stranger interview personal information.

  6. Daniel O says:

    What happens if a household refuses to complete a questionnaire or won’t cooperate with the census worker? Is there a fine or criminal punishment such as a civil fine or criminal prosecution? Politically the more people who answer the census questionnaire in a state will have a more accurate number of representatives in the United States Congress. With as much as 30% of the population failing to answer the questionnaire results in loss of funding in infrastructure and possibly the loss of seats in the House of Representatives.

  7. kev@censusstaff says:

    If people are staying in a shelter, transient location, or even on the street, we have existing procedures in place to count people without conventional housing.

  8. Roxy says:

    I am working at the Census Bureau in Jeffersonville IN putting together the training materials that will be sent to local Census offices all over the country including Puerto Rico. Yes, we do count homeless, and people who live in any type of group housing, such as the people who live at racetracks as trainers, etc. I wish people could understand how important the Census is, and that the data collected shows the true fabric of our country, the age, the race, the education, the economy, and many other things about our nation. The data comes from YOU.

  9. Lish says:

    I lived in a very populous, rather financially secure part of the US for many years. I have since moved to the Southeast. Oh my, what a difference there is in everything that the Census helps to determine funding for! It’s very depressing sometimes. Then I find out that the state was 49th for returning Census data in 2000. Well, I guess they like the squalor they live in, but certainly do complain a lot about the state having no money to improve anything. Localities/counties are passing 1 cent tax increases to fund road projects and other infrastructure maintenance/improvements. How many could have been funded had the people simply done as they were told and sent in their completed Census forms? Sad indeed. I’m sure if someone came knocking on these same people’s door with the $1200 check (the estimated average a state receives per citizen), they wouldn’t refuse that check!

  10. zak ryerson says:

    In 2000 I went to U.S. Coastguard Building* in Boston,I filled out a form
    And was that is why I am certain I was counted. As far as I can tell, that was the only way in which I was counted.
    I do not know to what extent Pine Street Inn which is _The Homless Shelter_ for the city of Boston Co-operated with the 2000 Census. I know that there were people who slept at 444 Harrison Avenue on Census night.
    I also know that the register of Voters will show a large number of people _registered_ at 444 Harrison Avenue.
    As far as I can tell, I was one of the few who voted in all statewide (even year) Elections in the years 2000 — 2008.
    And that I voted as registered at a different address in the “Special Election” that was recently in the news.**
    I do not _remember_ being counted in 1990, 1980, or 1970.
    I remember being counted in 1960.***
    I can not say if I was counted in 1950.
    I can say that my younger brother was not counted in 1950 🙂
    He was counted in 1960.
    * The Coast Guard Building is the one at the Big Dig side of the old Northern Avenue Swing Bridge. It is across the no longer in use street from the Lobster Place that Burned down between 2000 and 2010.
    ** FYI I voted for coakly each time.
    *** Figure it out for youself.

  11. BIG M says:

    i have already destroyed the first form with in 2 minutes of receiving it,the census worker made 2 mistakes,he came onto my property ignoring a no trespassing sign and a beware of dogs sign..guess what the pitbull was inside this time it will be out all day long,according to the rules in the city i live in any trespasser that enters property that is clearly marked with a beware of dogs sign and is attacked by said dog(s) ,the property owner is not liable,this information came directly from the chief of police.i have no intention of answering this form or talking to anyone..not that they can get to the door in 1 piece anyway.this census form is intrusive and none of the governments business,they can send all the people and forms they want but i wont answer it.

  12. gale says:

    is this democracy? i will gladly answer a 10 question census. i don’t like the ” 28 page, 48 questions census ” i received. how much income, social security income, pension checks and who from, house value and real estate taxes and cost of running your home, plus more.

  13. SC says:

    Why is it that the census has no interest in asking if you are a U.S. citizen? That should be one of the top 10 questions.

  14. DB says:

    It should has two questions. 1) How many people lived here on 4/1/2010? 2) How many of the people in question 1 are U.S. Citizens?

  15. Bill Parks says:

    This census is a joke. No mention if citizen so can’t be used to how districts are represented, since non citizens can’t vote, or can they? From a genealogy standpoint the census us useless!

  16. Naomi Cochran says:

    Yesterday (March 22) an Enumerator came to my door with a census form. After answering the questions, I commented that I thought the door-to-door calls would be made only as follow-up when a mailed form wasn’t returned–and that we hadn’t yet received a form in the mail. He told me that in our area, NO FORMS WERE BEING MAILED and that it was ALL door-to-door. We do not live in an area where there has been flooding, an earthquake, or anything disruptive–just a normal rural/small town area in northern Wisconsin. And yes, he was very frustrated at the WASTE of taxpayer money and unfeasible nature of this task. At nearly $13/hr and 50 cents/mile, he told me that the number of forms that he can complete in a day is MINIMAL–extremely inefficient–and very expensive!
    PLEASE EXPLAIN THE REASONING BEHIND THIS! It makes absolutely no sense.
    And by the way, when he asked about whether anyone in my household was planning to reside elsewhere in the near future (such as college or a nursing home)….Canada is looking pretty good.

  17. kevin says:

    I have a disability which makes visiting with a census worker extremely difficult for me. Not to mention, numerous visits from workers would be quite disturbing to me.
    I am in need of a replacement questionnaire. I have gone through the Bureau’s website extensively, but I am still not positive on whether or not I can obtain a replacement form..
    Any info is truly appreciated. Thanks

  18. Kevin,
    If you have not received a replacement questionnaire by April 12th you can contact our questionnaire assistance center at 866.872.6868.

  19. kevin says:

    Thanks. And my understanding is that I may possibly receive a second form prior to April 12th depending on where I live. Does this sound correct? And if so, do you know the date(s) those replacement forms will be sent? I believe I read somewhere April 1st and 2nd.
    Thank you again.

  20. enumerator says:

    As an enumerator, I think it would be very helpful to have some foreign language forms briefly explaining why I am at the door and what is expected of the respondent. I know if would add some to the cost of materials, but I think it would save in the long run on employee costs for follow up visits. Not every enumerator in Texas speaks Spanish.

  21. Michael R Clark says:

    I have not received my census package yet! My mother received hers,it was hanging on her cellar door rather than her front door. She had to climb over a snow bank to get it, as did the census taker to deliver it.
    I’ve seen one census bag hanging on a vacant (for years) house and two others in the ditch of the road. I”ve received your post dated postcard on March 22, stating “You’ve received your census, please return it”.
    WHERE IS MINE?? And WHY DIDN’T YOU USE THE UNITED STATES POST OFFICE as a pick up location for the census forms, rather than some non regulated back room location 45 miles away??(True all of them in all directions).
    We are both disabled and I can’t believe the money “YOU” are wasteing!!!!
    I will fill out a form in the privacy of my own house but I’m not going to give a stranger, hired off the street, my personal info. What’s your race and salary???

  22. W. Watkins says:

    I would like to know why I recieved another request in the mail today to complete my census form when I’ve already completed and mailed the original form the day after recieving it? I don’t intend to complete the second form.

  23. Lynn says:

    Why are there 2 different forms to fill out?
    The 10 questions asks the minimal information. However, why does the government have to ask all those ridiculous questions in the long form? Is it not an invasion?
    The census is to count the citizens, not ask how many toilets they have in the house. Is the government is expecting that they may need to use one of the toilets in the near future?

  24. Lynn,
    The long form has been replaced by the American Community Survey, for more information on the American Community Survey:

  25. Lynn says:

    Thank you Bri, I guess the Government headed off the catastrophic plumbing problem.

  26. Michael, The Census Bureau will is still in the process of delivering the 2010 Census questionnaires. If you have not received a questionnaire by April 12th, please contact the Telephone Questionnaire Assistance Center at 1-866-872-6868, but please note until April 12th, it is automated message. If you call after April 12th, someone will be able to help you. Also you can pick up a form at one of our Be Counted sites. Be counted sites are not private homes, but libraries, churches, town halls, local business etc. Be Counted forms are available for anyone who did not receive a 2010 Census form or believes that they were missed on their household’s form.

  27. MRC says:

    This is the problem! We have to call you, to get what we should have, from someone that you(WE) are paying very well to screw up.

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