Post Office Boxes And Households Without Forms

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Written by: Director Robert Groves

We finished one of our big operations, called Update/Leave, for areas that get their mail from post office boxes, and for other areas like the Gulf Coast regions affected by the hurricanes. For this operation, Census Bureau staff hand delivered census forms, usually leaving them on the front door knob in a plastic bag. We were on time and under budget, a testament to the quality staff doing the work.

Not all households that have post office box delivery will enjoy this dropped-off census form. Indeed, if there is an area with only one house that has stopped mail delivery to their address in preference for a post office box, that address has not yet received a census form.

Why is this the case?

Based on their usual residence (where they usually live and sleep) as of Census Day, people must be assigned by the Census Bureau to states (for reapportionment of the House of Representatives) and to individual blocks (for purposes of redistricting by the states and for the myriad uses of census data in funding/program decisions by federal agencies, states, tribes, local governments, and the private sector). Thus, we must both count people and assign them to a physical location where their living quarters are actually located. To do this, we conduct the census focused on where people live. The enumeration is driven by where people live, not by where they receive their mail. This concept of usual residence was established by the Census Act of March 1, 1790, as the interpretation of the Constitutional language requiring a census to determine the number of persons in each state.

Post office boxes can be used to retrieve mail in any place one wishes to receive the mail. The boxes can be far away from the home of the owner of the box; boxes can be shared by multiple people who live in different housing units; some boxes are not attached to households but to businesses. For these reasons, the Census Bureau does not mail census forms to post office boxes.

For the few households that live in an area where mail is routinely delivered to homes but they’ve chosen to receive their mail at a post office box, we will visit their address in the “nonresponse follow up” stage of the census, starting on May 1. In fact, we have mailed census forms to many of these units, but given US Postal Service rules, they likely are returned to us as undeliverable as addressed (given the choice to use a post office box address).

So for those with post office box delivery who haven’t yet received a form, we’ll see you after May 1. Please open your door to our census taker and provide your answers at that time.

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30 Responses to Post Office Boxes And Households Without Forms

  1. Bill Carpenter says:

    To the Director’s Blog:
    I strongly disagree with the decision to not use PO Boxes. This is the only way that we receive mail. We live in a Resort Area where many of the homes are 2nd Vacation Homes (typically only used for weekends and vacations – or rented on a short term basis {Vacation Rental Dwellings}. Our perminate home is located on a pedistrian walkway, which would allow easy pilphering of our mail. Many of the people in our area feel the same way and use the PO Box to receive their mail.
    We do want to be counted.
    Can we make an appointment with the local 2010 Census people to get a form? How do we contact them? Waiting for them to knock on our door will not work, we are in and out too much?
    Thank you, Bill

  2. Chris Hamilton says:

    I was missed in the 2000 census, however the IRS finds me every year by using my post office box. I don’t think you should use the post office as the standard by which you make your long decision. Additionally, I recommend that you also cross reference your mailing with the IRS and you will be more effective in getting the forms to individuals such as myself and making an accurate count.

  3. Raymond Bartels says:

    I did not I receive a census form in 2000 and I have not received one in 2010 because I have a PO box. In 2000, I do not believe anyone ever come by my home. This year I called the 1-866 number to get a form but the recording indicated I needed a census number, which is on the top of my form!!
    I suspect, 90% of the families who have PO boxes are honest and probably 90% live in the same city where the PO boxes are located. Why not send forms to PO boxes rather than likely missing at least half of these people? I think the net result would be a better count rather than ignoring every family with a PO box. In my home town, a lot of people will be like me and probably never receive a form. People with PO boxes are not second class citizens, but I am often treated that way on census and other matters where PO boxes are not accepted.

  4. Alaskim says:

    You have to be kidding me. We have lived in the same home since 1986, yet receive our mail at a P.O. Box. We live in Alaska and this is the way most of receive our mail. We have been waiting for our form and wondering where it is. This is outrageous. Most of us here in Alaska get our mail at the Post Office. What are you going to do with all of us….not count us? What if we are not home when the census taker comes by? I really can’t believe this.

  5. Gary Shoemaker says:

    I’d really like an explanation on what addresses the 2010 census form was sent to. We moved to Lakeway, TX 78734 in late June. We receive regular mail and services. However, we didn’t even receive a 2010 census form to fill out. Why not? If we didn’t get one, how many people didn’t get one? THIS IS RIDICULOUS!!!!!

  6. C. Hutchison says:

    I sent my census back in March. Now I have received another one. I’m afraid of getting a fine if I don’t send this one back and they don’t know I sent the first one back.

  7. Bill, You can also pick up a becounted form at one of our be counted locations.

  8. Alaskim,
    If you are not there when they come to your door they will leave a card with a number.

  9. C. Hutchison,
    if you already mailed back your first form you can discard the second.

  10. John Benblossom says:

    I have not received a 2010 census form.I have lived in my home in the Seattle area for 35 years. Called the Census 2010 phone number but only got a mail tree, no one to talk with. Am unable to order a census form by e-mail or phone, what am I suppose to do?

  11. John,
    Please call 1866-872-6868, however, they will not be able to help you until April 12th.

  12. noreply says:

    This is ridiculous. I should be able (TODAY) to call in and find out whether my address is in your system or not.

  13. says:

    We have not received our 2010 census questionnaire. We too receive our mail at a PO Box. We have a gate surrounding our property. Will they attach the form to our gate? They will not be able to get to the front door. We also have guard dogs.

  14. SV83353 says:

    We live in a county where we ONLY receive mail at a POST OFFICE BOX. This is not by choice. I have lived in this town since 1979 and we have ALWAYS received ALL of our mail (including previous censuses, tax documents, my student loan information) at our PO BOX. This is the only method of receiving mail in this area (although some towns further south have recently started to have home delivery).
    This is an outrage. There are a few places where the forms are available for pick up (but they just showed up and there were very few) but notices need to be sent to EVERY PO BOX in the area letting them know they WILL NOT BE COUNTED!!!!!
    It is difficult to discount the fact that we live in the ONLY Democratic county in a vastly Republican state. This hardly feels like an accident or any sort of oversight. This needs to be corrected NOW.

  15. Mike says:

    My niece lives in a rural area and gets her mail at the Post Office. She has yet to receive the census form that was supposed to be hung on the doorknob. Guess that system is working like it should. I got her a mail-in form so she could send it in and not be visited by 6 other enumerators. Oh yeah, my sister-in-law sent in their form two days after it was received in March. Guess what, she got another one in the mail. So much for quality control. I hate to say it, Dr. Groves but there is still a lot of waste in the 2010 census. Like, gobs of forms being given to enumerators that they won;t use since the crew leaders give them all they need. I guess since it’s our money being thrown to the wind, it doesn’t matter to the bureaucrats.

  16. Mike says:

    Go to a library of city hall, there should be a Questionnaire Assistance (QAC) person there to give you a form.

  17. Michael Ryan says:

    Just because you didn’t get a form in the mail, doesn’t mean you can’t get one. Each town should have a Questionnaire Assistance Center (QAC) where forms are available. Remember there are over 300 million people in the U.S. Everyone will be counted. Why is everyone so up-in-arms? You should be questioning why thousands of forms are distributed to the census takers and will never be used. Why are people being hired only to be told they will not work every day? Why are 30-some people sent to a facility to count people only to find out the job could have been done by half that number? Why were people who took the test in late 2008 not called up for a year and a half. It is our taxpayer dollars funding the census. It should be spent frugally so we get the highest outcome for the smallest expense.

  18. i have three dogs and some stranger knocking on the door when no one is home does’t seem like a cost effective use of government funds when u could have just mailed it to a po box with the villages that don’t have any delivery at all

  19. Mike, Ideally, we would only send these second forms to those addresses that haven’t yet returned their first census form by mail. The fact your sister-in-law received a second form, even though she already returned her form, means that she lives in an area that had a relatively low response rate in Census 2000. We sent a second form to housing units in your area in hopes of changing that this census. You can tell her to simply discard the second one she received. Our research shows that a replacement questionnaire could increase response rates by 7 to 10 percentage points. The savings from those increases in response rates more than pay for these mailings. The Census Bureau is dedicated to being a careful steward of the taxpayers’ money. We believe this use of money is a wise investment to avoid much larger salary costs of staff to follow up with those who do not fill out the form and mail it back. Anything we can do to remind people of the importance of filling out the form can avoid the expensive follow-up stage of the census.

  20. SV83353, As Director Groves states, those with post office box delivery who haven’t yet received a form, we’ll see you after May 1. Please open your door to our census taker and provide your answers at that time. Secondly, the work of the Census Bureau is above politics, we go out of our way to remain nonpartisan and apolitical.

  21. Stephanie says:

    We have a house a mile off the beaten path with a po box … Some how if its not mailed to me I doubt anyone will walk to my hourse…. The drive is a locked secured gate….

  22. martha Mazzei says:

    I, too, have and only found out that forms are not delivered to p.o. boxes in a conversation with a friend who is working for census bureau. She fowarded my concern and a census worker called me the next day to let me know where I could pick one up.. I now have 5 extra ones in my car as I am running into folks from the area daily who did not know they would not get a form in their I understand the reasoning behind this no delivery but please, post this info so people know..your post office poster does not mention p.o. boxes and any media I have seen or heard does not give you this information.. I worked the 90 census and do know the importance of this but you could do us all a favor by publishing this no p.o. delivery not only online but in the media. This is a very rural area,people move out here to get away from people etc. so I feel you will lose alot of bodies by not putting this info out.. also, the office which was set up to get forms has such limited hours. M-th noon-3. fri 9-12. Anyone lucky to have a job out here cannot make these times. just fyi

  23. Mrs. H says:

    We live in a very busy area where three counties are joined. I spoke to the neighbor across the street (in the county that I live in). He has not received the census form – the neighbor to our south in another county has not received his – we have not received one. We all have mail delivered to our mail boxes at the street. Why???

  24. Mrs. H,
    You can now call our 1-866-872-6868 line and request a questionnaire.

  25. Anne Lieb says:

    Even people with a street address in my area have not received the Census. A lot of people here do not have a street mailbox because kids routinely bash them with baseball bats.We have a PO Box in the village, six miles distant.

  26. Jo says:

    We don’t get the option to have mail delivery at our house. In our town we do have mail delivery, but we live so close to the post office that they won’t let us have mail delivery. Instead we have to pay like $20 a year to rent a box.
    The Census Bureau needs to come up with a better way to collect information from all Americans in ten years. I’ve got some ideas: like do an online form for one. We have Social Security Numbers for a reason – to identify us. So use it! I can apply for Federal Student Aid and people can register for unemployment online, but we can’t take a simple census questionaire. If calling in in a few minutes doesn’t get me any results towards getting a questionaire filled out, we aren’t going to open our doors to a stranger. Too many crazies out there these days who whould use this opportunity to do something horrible. And we have a baby in the house. NO WAY are we going to open up to the possibility of having something horrific happen to our baby!

  27. monsnurse says:

    I have a PO box and that is the only way that I recieve mail, but I am more concerned with the fact that they want my full name and phone number. I lie my privacy and I don’t want the government having my personal information. They can already track people whenever they want, why give them an open door?

  28. Marie Radford says:

    I did not receieve a census form and I was wondering why? I kept checking my mailbox (post office box) daily to take care of this asap. After talking to a lady at a conference, I was informed that you do not deliever to post office boxes. I would greatly appreciate it you would mail my form because I am hardly ever home and I am always goine to some meeting, funeral, etc. Please get in touch with me asap concerning this matter. I do want to be counted.

  29. Marie Radford says:

    I did not receieve a census form. I do want to be counted.

  30. Judy B says:

    Yeah this is a valid point!!!!

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