Address mix-up delays census tally in county

Postal Service returns forms with street numbers, not post office boxes

May 08, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Brooklandville and Stevenson residents might have their own neighborhood post offices, but the mail delivery system prevented them from receiving census forms.

Census officials acknowledge that they mistakenly thought that the street addresses they found in surveys they conducted last year were the correct mailing addresses and used them when they sent out census forms in March.

But because residents in both Baltimore County communities receive mail in post office boxes, the forms were returned by the U.S. Postal Service to the Census Bureau unseen and unopened.

"We got fooled by the fact that these people lived in areas with house numbers and street names, but get their mail from post office boxes," said Jay Waite, assistant director for census operations in Suitland.

Census officials mailed 100 million forms to homes with numbered street addresses in March, he said.

Census workers hand-delivered forms to the 20 million homes with post office box addresses.

Census officials did not mail forms to post office box addresses because of concerns that recipients could receive forms at more than one address, or could go weeks without checking their boxes, Waite said.

"We have no idea where the post office box is. Is it where they live or is it just a place they visit or do some business?" Waite said.

In places such as Brooklandville -- where neighborhoods have street names and house numbers but residents use post office address boxes -- the census incorrectly used street addresses that were gathered during street-by-street surveys last year.

Waite said the problem means residents in Brooklandville and Stevenson will be tallied by door-to-door surveyors who will count them with the 42 million people who neglected to mail in their census forms.

Waite estimated that as few as 100,000 people nationwide were affected by the problem.

"It happened in some isolated areas, but it's a very small number of people," he said.

Those affected say the oversight means added expense for the census and a knock at their doors that shouldn't be necessary.

"They're going to love coming out and going door to door around here, where you have country roads and there are no sidewalks," said Ann Stone, whose home on Hillside Road is served by the Brooklandville post office.

Postal officials at both branches say they heard a handful of complaints.

But they told patrons it wasn't their fault -- the census forms were marked with instructions to return to sender if addresses were incorrect.

"If the address was not correct, we were required to return it," said Annette Armstrong, postmaster at the Brooklandville post office, which serves about 800 homes.

Waite said census workers will be counting residents in both communities until July 7.

Enumerators will leave calling cards if no one is home, return to the homes three times if they get no response, then try to reach the resident by telephone, Waite said.

If census workers cannot find residents in three phone calls and three visits, they will perform a "proxy count," getting estimates on the number of people in a home from neighbors, he said.

"We're going to do what we can to get as accurate a count as possible," he said.

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