Census to cost $10 billion more than in 2000

By Patrick Smith

This year’s census, which was mailed out on March 15, will cost taxpayers $10 billion more than it did in 2000.

The extra costs are partly due to an aggressive advertising and public relations campaign raising awareness about the census, which included an ad aired during the Super Bowl.

Critics have called the cost, estimated to be $14.7 billion, too great, and the United States Government Accountability Office put the census on a high-risk list in 2008, in part because of uncertainty over the ultimate cost of the census. In recent testimony, the Government Accountability Office on Feb. 23 said the census bureau had addressed some of the issues, but its “analyses of cost are not complete.”

The total cost of the 2000 census was $4.5 billion.

Census Bureau Media Specialist Jim Accurso said the high bill is a result of the bureau’s strident attempt to get an

accurate count.

“We’re trying to get as complete a count as possible,” Accurso said. “Our goal is a 100 percent count, we want to create awareness …  The outreach is exponentially larger than in 2000.”

A poll by the Pew Research Center published on March 16 shows the outreach efforts are working. The poll found that 94 percent of Americans have heard of the census and 87 percent said they definitely or probably will return the census.

The poll was conducted from March 10-14 and 1,500 American adults were polled. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

“What was most substantial to us was the substantial increase in the visibility of the census,” said Michael Dimock, associate director of Pew. “It is almost double what it was in January. And the share saying they’re definitely planning to participate is up substantially as well.”

But people were less sure of the census when asked about the cost of the process. Thirty percent said it would cost too much, and another 15 said they did not know.  According to Dimock, those responses were based on a general ignorance of the cost of the census.

“People really haven’t paid attention to the census at all,” Dimock said. “I think that’s a discussion that’s way over a lot of people’s heads. People said, ‘I don’t know how much it’s costing.’”

Accurso pointed to the results of the poll to show that the heightened outreach

is working.

“We have seen increased awareness and we want people to return their forms as soon as possible while awareness is up,” Accurso said. “We want to be able to act on that awareness.”

Randy Stufflebeam, the Constitution Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate in Illinois, said the issue is not the money being used to increase awareness, but money wasted asking questions that don’t belong on the census form.

“There’s only one reason for a census or enumeration in our Constitution and that is for a basis of representation,” Stufflebeam said. “And it’s coming out to be that they’re using this census more to see what we

are about.”

Stufflebeam said the reach for more information than the government needs is “exactly” the reason the bureau is spending too much on this year’s census.

However, in an e-mail Andy Shaw, director of Illinois’ Better Government Association, said he was OK wih the government spending so much on the census.

“We have to get it right, even if it’s expensive,” Shaw wrote.

The $14.7 billion cost is more than triple the amount spent in 2000. It also amounts to $46.93 per person in the United States, compared to $15.99 spent per person in 2000, and $10.02 in 1990.