Census questionnaires go out to rural Md.

Head count in sparsely populated areas often more daunting

March 01, 2010|By Diana Nguyen | Capital News Service

Census takers will begin hand-delivering questionnaires to rural parts of Maryland today, two weeks before mailing surveys to residents in more urban areas.

It takes more time to visit households in rural areas, which are usually farther apart, said Joe Quartullo, area manager at the Philadelphia Regional Census Center that oversees the census in Maryland. Also, some rural households have irregular addresses that can make mailing questionnaires difficult.

Visiting about 12 million rural households nationwide, census enumerators plan to target rural Maryland pockets, such as some areas in Calvert and St. Mary's counties and parts of Western Maryland.

"There are challenges in rural areas and urban areas," Quartullo said. Language barriers, for example, tend to be more of a problem in urban neighborhoods, he said.

The Census Bureau plans to mail the 10-question survey to nonrural residents the week of March 15.

About one-third of residents generally fail to perform the constitutionally mandated task, Quartullo said. They'll receive a visit from enumerators who will conduct in-person surveys starting May 1.

At a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, Census Bureau Director Robert Groves stressed the importance of responding to the census.

"I'm going to make a plea to all of us to do everything we can over the next few days," Groves said to the subcommittee, "to tell friends and neighbors that this thing called the census is coming - that it's a chance for all of us to participate in a building block of the democracies that the founding fathers envisioned."

Mailing back the questionnaires actually saves money, Groves said.

The 2010 Census is projected to be the most expensive in history, with an estimated cost of $14.7 billion. However, for every percentage point increase in the mail-back rate of the questionnaires, $85 million is saved in follow-up costs, the Census Bureau said.

Though the census is federally funded through the U.S. Department of Commerce, Maryland pays for outreach efforts to promote the census.

The state has spent about $12,000 plus transportation costs for the outreach program, said John Coleman, public information officer for the Maryland Department of Planning.

The results of the 2010 census will determine the amount of federal funding allocated to the states. Depending on population shifts, census results will also redraw political districts within a state.

Coleman said it's too early to predict if the census will result in any changes in redrawing congressional districts, but the information obtained from the 2010 Census will be useful to determine population size, future land use and policy and planning.

"It's always important for us to know where the center of populations is," Coleman said. "We're looking for data, looking for good data that is useful to the Maryland Department of Planning."

In 2009, the Maryland Department of Planning estimated Maryland's population at 5.7 million - the 19th-largest in the United States, according to the Maryland State Data Center. Maryland is ranked fifth-highest in population density, which measures the number of people per square mile.

Population density is an important factor in terms of smart growth and directing development in existing communities, Coleman said.

Maryland expects to grow by an estimated 1 million residents in the next 25 years, Coleman said.

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