Groves says Census enumerators are ready

Wednesday - 4/28/2010, 10:50am EDT

Robert Groves, Director, Census Bureau

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

More than six hundred thousand people in 35,000 locations are being trained to be census takers. Saturday they hit the streets.

But until then, Census Director Dr. Robert Groves sounded just a little tickled at the number of Census forms returned in the mail. "I can tell you," Groves told Federal News Radio, "there are a lot of happy people at the Census Bureau right now. We have, as of Friday, a participation rate, which is our best estimate of what percent of the households mailed back the form, of about 72 percent."

To the untrained eye, that might mean that more than a quarter of the households did not return their forms, but Groves doesn't see it that way. He sees it as a milestone.

"If you asked your neighborhood survey researcher to achieve the same response rate you got 10 years ago, they would laugh out loud but we did it! And so this is a congratulatory finding for the American public really. We're overjoyed."

The return rate had the potential to be much worse, said Groves, if not for ideas and policies put in place even before he took over the Bureau. Advertising helped. Having a shorter form helped. And Groves credits sending out an additional 40 million replacement forms, especially to areas that had low participation rates. "That really worked," said Groves. "In fact, that's still pumping in returns."

Now, the enumerators hit the streets.

Groves had every confidence they'll get the job done. "On paper, at least, this is the best workforce we've had in decades. Wonderfully talented group, and this we have to thank for the sad high unemployment rate, but we're the beneficiaries of it."

Hired from the neighborhoods they live in, many are as multi-lingual as their communities.

"They are in a real sense public servants," said Groves. "Some of these folks are really doing it because they realize that this is a big act of civic engagement on the part of the country and they want to contribute to this effort."

That dedication will be needed, considering, if our math is right, they'll be visiting more than 35 million homes this year.

We have a real hard deadline. By December 31st, 2010, we must deliver to the President and to the whole country the state-level counts. Those counts will determine the number of representatives in the House of Representatives from each state. So that will be a big deal in December sometime, and there will be shifts of political power in some way. I have no idea what it will look like, but that will happen.

Then, in 2011, the fun for stats junkies really kicks in. Groves is looking forward to seeing the ebb and flow of individual groups.

"I think the fascinating thing, just personally, will be to watch the dispersion of ethnic minorities around the country. My, you know, kind of anthropological view on this by visiting a lot of those areas is that we're going to be surprised how dispersed small ethnic groups are around the country. They are in little towns in the middle west and the southwest in ways that we wouldn't expect."