On National Census Day, Government Highlights Once-a-Decade Count

You've probably gotten the form in the mail. Maybe you've seen one of the television commercials. One way or another it's a safe bet that you know that the U.S. Census is underway.

Just in case you didn't know, the government has dubbed today National Census Day, the reference date for its once-a-decade attempt to count the country's population.

"It's a snapshot of where the population is living at a particular moment in time," Census Bureau director Robert Groves said in an interview with ABC News.

Video of National Census Day at Bens Chili Bowl.
Ben's Chili Bowl in D.C. Welcomes Census Bureau Director Robert Groves

Over 134 million forms have been sent out to households nationwide. A $133 million advertizing blitz – including a cross-country road tour – has been going on for months. Even President Obama taped an ad urging people to participate. All part of the government's $14.7 billion effort to paint a portrait of the population.

The government's goal is to get as many people as possible to fill out and mail back the 10-question form. For every one percent increase in the number of people who mail back their forms, the government saves $85 million by not having to send bureau employees door-to-door looking for non responders.

"This is the one thing we can all do to attack the federal deficit," Groves said. "We all save money by having not to pay for the follow-up."

If everyone mailed back their census forms, the cost of the government effort would fall by $1.5 billion. And the more people get counted, the more help they'll get from the government – the census is used to allocate seats in Congress and distribute around $400 billion in federal funds.

Kansas City Mayor Cites 'Serious Sibling Rivalry'

To that end, these days you may notice everything from interactive Google maps to big-city mayors talking smack.

Kansas City Mo. Mayor Mark Funkhouser recently challenged St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay to see whose city could have the most improved mail-in rate for census forms. The wager? Beer and barbecue.

If St. Louis wins, Funkhouser will owe his mayoral counterpart a case of Boulevard Brewing Company beer and a barbecue sampler platter from a few local hotspots. If Kansas City wins, Slay will owe Funkhouser a case of Schlafly's beer and some Pappy's BBQ.

"its hometown brewery and hometown barbecue – I look at it as a can't lose!" Funkhouser said to ABC News with a chuckle. "I feel pretty confident that we're going to have the higher mail-in rate. I jumped at the idea when I heard it."

And the Kansas City mayor – citing some "pretty serious sibling rivalry" between the two cities – couldn't resist engaging in a little trash talk.

"St. Louis used to be the biggest city in Missouri and then [at] some time Kansas City became the biggest," Funkhouser cited. "After the census I think we're still going to be way out in front."

Just for good measure, Funkhouser threw in a jab at St. Louis barbecue, too.

"I can't recall that I've ever had Pappy's BBQ, so I'm looking forward to it. I can't imagine it's as good as Kansas City barbecue, but it's worth a try," he said.

On a more serious note, Groves, too, loves these types of wagers. A handful of similar bets have been made elsewhere around the country.

"Anything that keeps awareness and participation in the foreground is a good thing," Groves said. "I'm really thankful to these mayors and other political leaders who are making these bets. It's fun to do and we'll all be the beneficiary."

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