WASHINGTON – Just 59 percent of Maryland residents had mailed in their census forms by Wednesday, well shy of the 75 percent return rate that officials hoped to have next week, state and federal officials said.
That return rate still placed Maryland slightly above the national return rate of 57 percent: Ten states have higher return rates, and Maryland is tied with six others at 59 percent. No state has reached its return-rate goal, and time is running short.
Census enumerators will fan out later this month to count those people who have not returned their forms by mail, but officials were hoping for a high mail-back rate to save time and money and lead to a more accurate count.
Despite state and national census advertising campaigns that have made people more aware of the census, some still are not participating, said Andrea King, a regional Census Bureau spokeswoman in Philadelphia.
“People are still concerned about issues of confidentiality,” and the return rate has dropped every 10 years, King said.
While there are still five days left to the April 11 target for mail returns, King said the bureau does not expect millions of forms to pour in at the last minute.
“It’s been predicted that the response rate would drop to 61 percent,” she said.
In Maryland, where the Governor’s Census 2000 Office was created last spring to boost the state’s response to the census, officials said they plant to beef up their efforts.
“We’re going to be in neighborhoods handing out fliers, driving through neighborhoods with loudspeakers telling residents to fill out their census forms,” said spokeswoman Kate Philips.
“Our main goal is to facilitate the Census Bureau as best we can, we want to make their job as easy as possible,” Philips said.
In 1990, Maryland’s census response rate was the 39th-worst of the 50 states. Only 70 percent of Marylanders returned their forms in 1990. While most of the remaining 30 percent were eventually counted by enumerators, many were not. About 100,000 state residents were missed in the count, and the state lost an estimated $1 billion in federal funds over the decade as a result.
Crunch time has arrived, but there is a backup plan. The state will use enumerators, starting the last week of April, to count people who did not mail back their forms, Philips said.
“We’re reaching out in grass-roots efforts,” said Philips.
The office has 30 people scattered throughout the state who are responsible for finding the areas where people are hard to find. Those areas include places where many families live in one home, or where people live in non-traditional dwellings like storefronts or isolated rural areas.
Philips is still hopeful that Maryland will reach its return-rate goal. Many community leaders have been “incredibly cooperative,” she said.