City’s higher census return rate among highest in U.S.

Preliminary figure of 66% a result of aggressive marketing, coordination, mayor says

April 30, 2010|By Brent Jones, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore's 66 percent mail-in return rate for census forms exceeds the city's mark in 2000 and represents one of the highest response increases in the nation, according to Census Bureau officials.

The Census Bureau will release the final mail-in return number in the fall, but the preliminary figure is 6 percentage points higher than the response from a decade ago, officials said.

City officials credit the rise to an aggressive advertising campaign and a coordinated effort among agencies.

"I'm very excited," Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake said. "We've spent a lot of time focusing on the needs of Baltimore and how to get to hard-to-count communities. We've had firefighters out knocking on doors. I was out knocking on doors along with sororities, fraternities and other community groups."

Response rates this year were higher across the country, in part because of a change in the method of calculation. The new rate includes only the percentage of forms mailed back by households that received the questionnaires. The previous method included households whose forms were returned by the Postal Service as "undeliverable."

Census officials say the change was made to take into account the high number of foreclosed homes during the past decade.

Under the previous method, Baltimore's mail-in rate in 2000 was 53 percent, 7 percentage points lower than the number census workers are now using. The 53 percent rate was second-worst in the country among cities with similar populations.

"This is a significant achievement; the residents of Baltimore have stepped up to the challenge of participating in this once-a-decade civic event," said Fernando Armstrong, director of the Philadelphia Regional Census Center, which includes Maryland. "We knew the job would be more difficult in 2010 than in 2000, yet residents responded tremendously."

Statewide, about 74 percent of Maryland households have returned the forms, 2 percentage points higher than the national average. Carroll County led the area with an 81 percent response rate, followed by Harford and Howard counties (79 percent), and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties (76 percent).

On Sunday, census takers will begin canvassing the city and state, knocking on doors of households that did not mail back forms. About 12,000 have been hired throughout Maryland for the job.

The Census Bureau said workers will carry an official badge and shoulder bag with the Department of Commerce seal, along with a binder. Census takers should show identification. Officials say the 10-question form should take about 10 minutes to fill out.

"I would urge everyone to use the same caution that they use on a daily basis — to answer the door to a person you know or a person who has an official ID," Rawlings-Blake said.

The city receives at least $2,500 in federal funding per resident each year based on population data, officials say, and the 2000 count put Baltimore's official population at 651,154.

Census figures are used to help allocate $400 billion a year in federal funds and to determine the number of seats each state gets in Congress.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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