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Ready for the 2010 census? Forms start arriving today

Start checking your mailbox as mail delivery of the 2010 census begins today

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On the other end of the scale, Midwest states such as Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska ranked at the top in mail participation, at roughly 80 percent. These states had higher shares of older white residents, who are more likely to view census participation as a civic duty. Iowa could lose one seat based on slowing population growth, while seats for Wisconsin and Nebraska are likely to remain unchanged.

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In 2000, the Census Bureau for the first time had a nationwide overcount of 1.3 million people, mostly from duplicate counts of more affluent whites with multiple homes. Still, 4.5 million people were ultimately missed, mostly lower-income blacks and Hispanics.

"The Census Bureau has its work cut out for it," said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution who analyzed the participation numbers. He noted an irony in which states and counties with high mail-participation rates in 2000 were the ones least likely to see large population gains in recent years.

"This makes it even more incumbent on the dynamic fast-growing parts of the country to improve upon their subpar census participation in 2000, if they are going to receive their just rewards," Frey said.

As part of its outreach, the Census Bureau for the first time is mailing out bilingual English-Spanish census forms to 13 million households. Census forms are also available upon request in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Russian, and assistance guides are available in 59 languages at http://www.2010census.gov.

Failure to respond to the census carries a fine of up to $5,000, although that law is rarely enforced.

The 10-question form is one of the shortest in the history of the census. It asks a person's name, address, phone number, age, race and ethnicity, gender, living arrangements and home ownership. The information is kept strictly confidential under federal law, and the Census Bureau does not share data with other agencies, including law enforcement.

The mail-back campaign comes after the Commerce Department inspector general, Todd Zinser, last month found the Census Bureau wasted millions of dollars in paying temporary employees who didn't do the work and overbilled for travel. Zinser urged the bureau to tighten spending controls before it dispatched 650,000 additional temporary employees to visit homes in May.

Groves, who was sworn in as director in July, has said he would keep closer watch over agency spending.

The Super Bowl advertising, part of the bureau's $133 million media campaign to increase public awareness, was panned as ineffective by media critics and wasteful by Republicans including Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The IG report, however, said the advertising was consistent with government goals of boosting participation in the count.

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