Census response lags

September 19, 2000

Census response lags

By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

People in the Tri-State area didn't respond well to this year's Census, with 50 of 63 communities returning fewer forms than they did in 1990.


The U.S. Census Bureau released numbers Tuesday showing the percentage of households in each community that sent in their Census forms.

Only four area communities, including Sharpsburg and Williamsport in Washington County, showed significant gains over the 1990 census.

Nationwide, a $167 million advertising campaign helped boost the response rate to 67 percent, two points higher than the last count, Census officials said.

It's still too early to predict how many people weren't counted. The Census Bureau is crunching numbers and evaluating the quality of the count, said Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt.


Most of the local communities that had improved response rates were in Maryland.

Williamsport Mayor John Slayman said his town was able to improve its response rate by six points by using newsletters and announcements to remind residents about the importance of being counted.

"Everybody working together makes a big difference," he said.

Thompson Township in Fulton County, Pa., also made significant gains over the 1990 census, but Supervisor Bruce Bivens said local government officials didn't do anything out of the ordinary to promote the Census.

"We have good cooperation in this township," Bivens said.

Mont Alto, Pa., had the highest response rate of any community in the Tri-State area, with 79 percent.

Mont Alto Councilman Thomas Lowman said borough officials tried to let people know how important it is to be counted. The town has many retired people who depend on programs that are funded based on Census numbers, he said.

"It must have worked. I think that's great," he said.

On the other hand, the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia made few gains over 1990 and its response rates were generally below national averages.

In Washington County, the lowest response rate was Smithsburg's 51 percent.

Town officials blamed the low return on the Census Bureau's failure to mail forms to people with post office boxes. About half of the town's households never received the forms, said Town Clerk Betsy Martin.

The town made the forms available for a few weeks, until the Census Bureau said it was too late and people who didn't receive forms would have to be counted door-to-door.

Census takers plan to finish the count in Washington County by the end of September and then the office in Hagerstown will be closed, said spokeswoman Terry Willis.

When asked why they responded to the Census, most people said it was to get their fair share of tax dollars. Secondly, it was civic responsibility, Prewitt said.

Local communities that spent money getting out the Census message were rewarded with improved response rates, he said.

The actual tabulation of the nation's population must be delivered to President Clinton by Dec. 31. The Supreme Court last year ruled those figures must be used to reapportion the 435 seats in the House.

The Herald-Mail Articles