VIA THE WASHINGTON POST:

Residents of big cities and rural areas are lagging in returning their census questionnaires, but at least two states and hundreds of smaller jurisdictions have already surpassed the rate they achieved in 2000, Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves said Monday.

About two in three households have responded so far, and this is the final week to mail back the 10-question census forms to avoid having a census taker come out, starting in May. On April 19, census officials will begin compiling a master list of addresses that did not respond. They expect to hire more than 700,000 census takers to make up to six personal visits so they can complete the count.

Groves said North Carolina, with a 67 percent response rate, and South Carolina, at 66 percent, are each one percentage point ahead of their count for the last census, while Kentucky is on the verge of matching its 2000 rate of 70 percent. The national average is 65 percent.

The areas where response rates are low include many rural areas, particularly in the South and the West. Much of the area along the Mexico-Texas border is below 50 percent. Groves said he is “alarmed” at how big cities are doing. The 25 most populous cities in the country are all several percentage points below where they were in 2000, although they might make up the slack in the next two weeks.

In Virginia, 69 percent have sent their forms back, compared with 73 percent at this point in 2000; Maryland is at 67 percent, compared with 74 percent in 2000; and in the District, 61 percent have responded, compared with 66 percent in 2000.

Groves attributed low response rates to factors such as language barriers among new immigrants and the difficulty of counting rural households that use post office boxes, not mail addresses.

But he said census officials can find no evidence of any impact from calls by some libertarians to boycott the census or answer only questions counting the number of people living in a household. Only 1 or 2 percent of the forms returned are partially complete, which is about what officials anticipated, he said. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has said census questions have become too intrusive, and her family will not complete their census form completely.

“Look at Minnesota,” Groves said, referring to the census map showing that 74 percent of Minnesotans have returned their forms.

Groves said the census, estimated to cost almost $15 billion, is under budget so far, though the final cost will depend on how many census takers have to be hired to look for people who don’t mail in their questionnaires.

He also said several census takers have been injured while venturing into campsites trying to count people living outdoors. Some of the sites have been booby-trapped on the perimeter, he said, and the census takers set off the traps when they approached.

“Some of the booby traps have caused gashes on their legs,” he said, adding that none of the injuries has been serious.

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