The U.S. government today launched a massive outreach effort to alert the nation about this year's census, kicking off a $340 million promotional campaign that will travel across the country in the upcoming months.
After launching today in New York City's Times Square, the census road tour will stop at more than 800 events nationwide, including high-profile sporting events such as the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four. There is even a scheduled stop at New Orleans' Mardi Gras.
It is all part of an effort to notify the American population about this spring's census. In March, the census form (10 questions for most Americans) will arrive in mailboxes, the government's once-a-decade attempt to paint a new portrait of the country.
Then on April 1 – only about 100 days away – comes National Census Day.
In all, the road tour will log more than 150,000 miles, even hitting Puerto Rico, with 13 tour vehicles trying to "bring the census to life".
'Portrait of America'
"The highly visual and interactive experience captures the importance of the census and the role each of us plays in a successful count," Census Bureau director Robert Groves said in a blog post on the census Web site last week. "The display tent has a lot of video images and allows you to make your own video to add to 'the Portrait of America.'"
Groves, along with New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, were holding a press conference Monday afternoon in New York City.
The goal of the tour, Groves wrote in his blog, is "to encourage everyone to complete and return the 10-question census form when it arrives in mailboxes" in March.
"At each stop, the public will learn about the 2010 census and how participation supports local communities," he said.
One fact that the public might learn is that the 2010 census form is the shortest in history. The bureau says it can be completed in only 10 minutes. For the first time since 1930, the bureau is using just one form, not two. The bureau has also unveiled a bilingual form that will be sent to areas with high Hispanic populations.
U.S. Census Starts Promotional Tour
The objective is to maximize the number of completed forms that get mailed back to the bureau. Non-responses, the bureau knows, can be very costly. For every one percent increase in the number of people who mail back their forms, the bureau saves $80 million by not having to seek them out.
However, a recent analysis conducted by the bureau said there may be a three-percent decrease in mailed-back forms, caused by government mistrust, fear of identity theft, and the surge in home foreclosures.
In addition to the road tour, the census bureau this month is launching a television, radio, and print ad campaign. The campaign consists of three phases: an awareness phase to let people know the census is coming, a motivation phase to get people to mail back their completed forms, and a cooperation phase to get people to play nice with census workers who will be making house calls if necessary.
The census will also have to overcome other issues, such as Hispanic advocacy groups calling for illegal immigrants to boycott the census unless immigration laws are not changed. The boycott is led by the National Coalition of Latino Clergy & Christian Leaders, a group claiming to represent 20,000 evangelical churches in 34 states.
In a variety of ways, obstacles abound for the census. Simply put, conducting a nationwide census is no small feat, making outreach campaigns all the more important. As Groves titled his blog post, "Miles to Go Before We Sleep...."