April 14, 2000

Census Director and Commerce Secretary Say Nation "In Reach" of Major Civic Accomplishment

Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt announced today that 62 percent of American households had already returned their census forms by mail, with just one week to go before census takers will complete the process of identifying those households that have not responded and will require follow-up visits by enumerators.

This is the last day the Census Bureau will report daily mail response rates for more than 38,000 local jurisdictions. Prewitt said, "...America is within reach of doing as well or better than 1990, which would be a major civic accomplishment and reverse a decades-long trend of civic disengagement."

Mail response rates to the census questionnaire have dropped from a high of 78 percent in 1970, to 75 percent in 1980 and 65 percent in 1990. The Bureau made substantial operational changes and modified the census form during the last decade to help reverse this decline. It predicted to Congress that even with these changes, only 61 percent of households would respond by mail in Census 2000. With just a few more days to process mail returns, Prewitt noted that reaching 65 percent again "might demonstrate that a positive shift in attitudes toward civic responsibility may be underway in the country, as well as a major improvement in the basic census design."

Prewitt also noted that the response rate for Census 2000 long forms continues to trail the short form response by a much larger margin than in 1990. "The long form response rate is lagging behind the short form by more than double the rate experienced in 1990," Prewitt said.

Commerce Secretary William H. Daley said, "It's not too late. It is in the hands of the American people to demonstrate we can be better. To anyone who has not yet mailed in their form, do it today and make a difference for you, your community and your nation."

Next Tuesday, April 18th, is the last day a mailed-in form can prevent a follow-up visit next month by census enumerators. Prewitt said he hoped to be able to report at that time that the nation has at least matched its 1990 performance.

Prewitt stressed that mailed-in forms arriving as late as April 18th may not always prevent a follow-up visit since the Bureau errs on the side of ensuring every American is counted.

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