An Update on the 2010 Census

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Top Drawer Ink’s February 2010 article about the US Census (click here) discussed the then-estimated $15 billion cost of the 2010 census. We ended by mentioning that the census form consisted of ten questions, plus seven additional questions for each household member.

Now that the census is over, here are a few more statistics.

If you answered all the questions and mailed back the form in the prepaid envelope, you’re part of the 74% of households who saved the government money. That’s because, on average, each mailed-back form cost forty-two cents, while follow-ups by a temporary government employee to collect data from nonrespondents cost approximately $57 per household.

And what was the final price tag?

In a report to congress last December, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the actual cost of the census rounded out to about $98 for every household counted, for a total of $13 billion. While that’s less than the original estimate, the GAO also says 2010 census was the most expensive ever. Worse, the cost generally doubles with each successive census—yet the results do not improve.

What does that mean for the 2020 census?

No one knows. However, the Census Bureau is on the job. In 2009, the Bureau released a strategic plan for the 2020 census. Going forward, more reports will be released, detailing ways to cut costs while improving the accuracy of the next national head count.

According to the GAO, given the costs and challenges involved, it’s never too early to start.

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