April 1 is National Census Day

BY Anna Shoup  April 1, 2010 at 4:06 PM EST

Updated: 6:02 pm ET

No, it’s not an April Fool’s Day Joke. The U.S. Census Bureau wants households to mail in the 10-questions forms by today to compile a snapshot of U.S. residents — citizens and non-citizens.

Among the things at stake: Some $400 billion dollars of federal funding dollars for schools, hospitals, emergency centers and other services, all of which are allocated according to Census data. It also guides Congressional Districts, which will be redrawn before the 2012 election.

So what happens if you’re like Jeremy West from Sacramento, Calif., who just hasn’t sent it in yet?

“I have it sitting in a pile of mail on my desk,” West told Capitol Public Radio.

You’ll get a knock on your door, said Robert Groves, the director of the Census Bureau in an interview with Jim Lehrer on Wednesday’s NewsHour.

It costs $60 per household to go door to door, according to Groves. If all the forms were mailed in, the federal government would save $1.5 billion dollars, the Census Bureau says.

But that money is a positive, if short-lived, boost to the national employment picture because the temporary workers hired to go door-to-door will be counted in government employment data. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an estimate here of how this will impact the employment picture.

As of noon on April 1, only 52 percent of households that received the forms have mailed them in, according to the bureau’s Take 10 Challenge Map that tracks the mail participation rate by zip code. Dubuque City, Iowa leads the nation so far, with a 70 percent mail participation rate. Find out your own zip code’s rate. Google has another version of this map as a layer in Google Earth:

The form includes 10 questions covering age, gender and race. The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC asks you to submit an 11th subject to be included.

A key challenge revolves around how to count everyone and make sure that people are comfortable sharing their information with the government.

In Seattle, census workers are heading to homeless shelters and meal sites to count people who don’t have a mailing address, KPLU reports. In San Diego, volunteers with the Union of Pan Asian Communities are going door to door to make sure that Asian and Pacific Islanders are counted.

Efforts are also being made to encourage a strong response rate from Latino communities. In Michigan, officials are working with local churches and social workers to help ease the fear in returning the forms to the federal government said Jane Garcia, who works for the regional Census Bureau.

“Because they trust those agencies,” Garcia told Michigan Public Radio. “So that’s the extra boost that would say everything confidential, if you can not read it or are having trouble reading it, we will assist you.”

On the lighter side, here’s what a door-to-door questionnaire could look like, if we were all Christopher Walken in this Saturday Night Live sketch from 2000. Hat tip to WNYC for finding it.

Finally, the U.S. isn’t the only country to tackle such a count. India also kicks off its own census Thursday to track the country’s estimated 1.2 billion people.

“Census 2011 is the largest exercise of its kind in human history,” said Indiana Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram.

Compared to India, the U.S. has an easier task. The U.S. Census Bureau’s POPclock for the U.S. was at 308,981,478 as of 1 p.m. ET, with one birth every 8 seconds and one death every 12 seconds. The world’s population, meanwhile, clocks in at 6,812,132,875.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the population of India as 1.2 million. This version has been corrected.