I mentioned the upcoming U.S. Census recently, and noted my disappointment at having to mail back forms instead of filing them electronically which would save money, encourage greater participation, … whoops, that was the other post.
I was going to leave the topic alone, but, I can’t. Last week I received a letter in the mail letting me know that the Census form would be coming. And sure enough, this week the form showed up, with a prepaid envelope to return it. Three mailings. But nope, that’s not enough. I just received a postcard from the US Census Bureau reminding me of a toll free number available for help filling in the form!
Apparently, 120,000,000 letters were sent out ahead of the form to announce its pending arrival, and another 120,000,000 postcards were mailed afterward as a reminder!
The waste of $s is truly sickening, even by government standards!

10 thoughts

  1. Never underestimate the ability of people to forget, be lazy, or simply not fill out the form and return it. It may look like a lot of money to be spending to remind people to fill out that form and send it back, but it’s still cheaper than sending census workers into the field to collect the information in person. Those additional mailers will prompt more people to mail it back which means less field work that needs to be done. From what I’ve read elsewhere by people who have run the numbers, they actually SAVE money by approaching it this way.

  2. I actually got two warnings that I would get the form in the mail. Funny thing is I didn’t open up all three envelopes until today when I decided to fill out the form. As for doing it electronically, I actually would be against that idea. Feel free to flame.

  3. A few years ago, when we got a rebate or whatever from the IRS, they sent a letter to everyone saying they would get the rebate. This is just as stupid.

  4. Ben, it costs $57 (an entirely different story) to send a person out to collect census data. By one estimate I read, the cost of the first mailing was equal to sending people out to 1% of all households. The Census Bureau expects that the mailings will improve response rates by ~6%.
    So what appears to be wasteful is actually the smarter, less wasteful way to go. I’m with you on the online response route – there’s nothing on the form I got that I would consider particularly sensitive and it would be less annoying.

  5. Ben, love your books and products, but disagree with your jump to conclusions.
    The census is a constitutional imperative. Each state’s fair congressional representation and portion of the federal budget pie depends on an accurate census. This is a big deal both to large states like California, and to small states like the one I live in. This is a very important issue, and is worth sending out prior notices and reminders, even if that costs millions of dollars. Not everyone has a computer (I know, crazy in 2010, but true). Even if the census bureau did have an online option, they would still have to send letters to everyone. Otherwise, they would be accused of purposefully marginalizing minorities and the elderly citizens who are less likely to have a computer. Sending people warnings and reminders means that they are more likely to get responses. And as Steve mentioned, every letter they get back means one less house they have to send an employee to at much greater expense.

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