Idahoans are mailing in their U.S. Census questionnaires at a higher rate than the rest of the country, but are running up against a Friday mail-in deadline. Any household that doesn’t mail in the forms by April 16 will get a knock on the door from census workers, a move that would cost the federal government an average of $57 per household. If all households mail back their census forms, it could save taxpayers $1.5 billion.
“The sooner they mail it, particularly if they mail it by Friday, they won’t be added to that list where we’ll go knocking on doors,” said Stacy McBain, a spokeswoman for the census. She said the government has already started hiring some census workers to knock on the doors of households that fail to respond by mail, but said those employees’ work could be limited with a higher mail-in response rate.
Idaho has a 71 percent mail participation rate for the 10-question census forms, according to the U.S. census website Thursday. That’s higher than the 68 percent national average, and higher than all of Idaho's surrounding states. Utah, Oregon, and Washington all have 69 percent mail-in rates, while Wyoming and Montana have 65 percent and Nevada lags at 64 percent. North central states like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa lead the country in mailing back census forms, while Louisiana and New Mexico are trailing the rest of the country. In 2000, Idaho had a 75 percent mail participation rate, which beat the 72 percent national mark.
McBain called the above average response great news, and said that Idahoans apparently feel that the census questions are easy, safe, and important. Idaho’s more populous counties have higher mail-in rates than more rural counties, according to the census website. McBain also said that extra mailings, including reminders to fill out the 10 questions before and after receiving the mailing, should increase the number of people who mail back their forms. “It’s been shown to work,” she said. “That mail outreach increases response rate 6-12 percent.” Some households in hard-to-count areas received a second census form, but McBain said those households shouldn’t be counted twice, thanks to barcodes on the forms and computer programs that check responses.
The final mail participation map will be finished May 3. Preliminary census data will be sent to President Barack Obama in December, and the population totals should be finalized in March. After that, legislative districts for Congress and the Idaho Legislature will be redrawn, and some federal funding for communities will shift due to population changes.