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Where Are All the Census Savings?


Demian Brady

 

The Census Bureau has undertaken a remarkable and nearly ubiquitous campaign to promote Census 2010. It sponsored a $2.5 million Super Bowl ad, it is sponsoring NASCARs Greg Biffle in the #16 car for three weeks at $1.2 million, and Juan Williams writes that it even ran ads during Nickelodeon's popular kid show Dora the Explorer as part of a $133 million outreach effort. Over the next few days, 120 million households across the country will receive a letter from the Census Bureau advising recipients that they will be receiving another letter next week with the actual census form. Although the Bureau hasn’t released cost information for the heads up letter, a blogger for Minnesota Public Radio estimates the supplies and postage could cost up to $42 million.

            Why all this hype? The mantra of the Bureau is that the census will save $85 million for every 1 percent increase in the mail-back response and that the advance letters will increase census participation by 6 percent. So with all of this advertising, plus the letter notification, this will be the cheapest census yet? Not even close.

            The latest estimate puts the cost for the 2010 decennial census at $14.7 billion, a $10 billion increase over the 2000 census. I assume that the census cost information in the table below is in nominal dollars, but even when adjusted for inflation, the cost per person to conduct the census has more than doubled to $47 since the 2000 census.

 

Census Year

Population

Census Cost¹

Cost-2010 Dollars (using CPI calculator)²

Cost per Person (in adjusted dollars)

1790

3,929,214

$44,377

 

 

1800

5,308,483

$66,109

 

 

1810

7,239,881

$178,445

 

 

1820

9,633,822

$208,526

 

 

1830

12,866,020

$378,545

 

 

1840

17,069,458

$833,371

 

 

1850

23,191,876

$1,423,351

 

 

1860

31,443,321

$1,969,377

 

 

1870

38,558,371

$3,421,198

 

 

1880

50,155,783

$5,790,678

 

 

1890

62,979,766

$11,547,127

 

 

1900

76,303,387

$11,854,000

 

 

1910

91,972,266

$15,968,000

 

 

1920

105,710,620

$25,117,000

$272,126,370

$2.57

1930

122,775,046

$40,156,000

$521,034,920

$4.24

1940

131,669,275

$67,527,000

$1,045,158,790

$7.94

1950

151,325,798

$91,462,000

$822,349,640

$5.43

1960

179,323,175

$127,934,000

$936,541,710

$5.22

1970

203,302,031

$247,653,000

$1,383,071,790

$6.80

1980

226,542,199

$1,078,488,000

$2,836,096,230

$12.52

1990

248,718,301

$2,492,830,000

$4,132,852,750

$16.62

2000

281,421,906

$4,500,000,000

$5,662,552,260

$20.12

2010

  308,835,528³

$14,700,000,000

$14,700,000,000

$47.60

Source: 1. http://www.census.gov/prod/2002pubs/pol02marv-pt5.pdf;

            2. http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm;

            3. http://www.census.gov/population/www/popclockus.html.

 ***Update March 11, 2010***

This afternoon, a spokeswoman from the Census Bureau informed me that the $4.5 billion cost for the FY2000 census I cited from Appendix A of the Census' report, Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000, is incorrect. She said the cost in nominal dollars was actually $6.4 billion. I will post a new chart in a new blog post.


 

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User Comments

Submitted by Wizard at: January 18, 2012
While the census is important, it is the abuse into social engineering which the left has warped the simple task and ballooned the cost as usual with any of the left social experiments.

Submitted by Census Staff at: March 11, 2010
The 2010 Census is mandated by the Constitution and is a massive undertaking. It is increasingly difficult to get a 100% count in a much bigger, more diverse, and complex society, especially during tough economic times with high levels of government cynicism. Counting everyone in the country is not cheap; however the payoff from a good census is huge. Taxpayers could reduce the cost of taking the census by $1.5 billion if every household completed and mailed back their 2010 Census questionnaire. The 2010 Census is the shortest and easiest in our lifetime, yet we project that we will have to send census takers to an estimated 48 million households that do not respond by mail. Following up door-to-door to count households from May to July will require hiring about 650,000 census workers. In 2000, the nation reversed a three decade decline in mail participation and saved $305 million in achieving a participation rate of 72 percent. Funding an integrated communications campaign for the 2010 Census was a business decision. By investing in an awareness and motivation campaign now, we can encourage more people to take 10 minutes to fill out the 10 question form and mail it back when it arrives next week.

Submitted by nigelmoose at: March 10, 2010
What an outrageous waste of money. This is money being spent that if returned to taxpayers could otherwise fund retirements, college educations, mortgage payments...