And we're off!
The U.S. government's once-a-decade attempt to document the country's population kicks off today as over 120 million census forms start arriving in mailboxes nationwide.
The 10-question forms are used to count the U.S. population, allocate seats in Congress, and dish out $400 billion in federal funds.
"When you receive your 2010 census, please fill it out and mail it back," Census Bureau director Robert Groves said in a statement. "It's one of the shortest forms in our lifetime with just 10 questions very much like the questions James Madison and Thomas Jefferson helped craft on the very first census."
The more Americans mail back completed census forms, the more taxpayer money will be saved. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. The Census Bureau saves around $80 million for every one percent increase in the number of people who mail back their completed forms.
"It's a lot less expensive to get responses back by mail than it is to send census takers to knock on doors of households that failed to respond," Groves sa`id. "It costs the government just 42 cents for a postage paid envelope when a household mails back the form. It costs $57 to send a census taker door-to-door to follow up with each household that fails to respond."
In a 30-second ad released last month President Obama urged Americans to participate in the government's once-a-decade attempt to paint a portrait of the country's population.
"Every 10 years, our Constitution requires the federal government to conduct a census," the president said. "This helps determine your representation in Congress, as well as how federal funds are spent on things like schools and roads and where businesses decide to put new stores and factories."
"So when you get your census form in mid-March," he stated, "take about 10 minutes to answer 10 questions – remembering to include everyone in your household. Because we can't move forward until you mail it back."
The package that many Americans receive in the mail today will include a cover letter, a postage-paid return envelope, and the 10-question census form. The questions consist of: how many people live in the residence, any additional people that might live there as of April 1, whether the residence is owned or rented, the telephone number, the resident's name, sex, age and date of birth, whether the person is of Hispanic origin, the person's race, and whether that person also spends time living at another location.
To boost participation the Census Bureau this year launched a $133 million advertising blitz, including a nationwide road tour to boost awareness about the government count.
The Bureau even aired a $2.5 million ad during the Super Bowl. The total cost of the 2010 census is expected to be $14.7 billion.
The effects of the census will not only be felt in communities nationwide and the Congress, but also in the country's struggling job market. A study released last month by the Commerce Department, which includes the Census Bureau, found that the government effort will add up to 635,000 temporary new jobs in May.
Census hiring will also cause the country's unemployment rate to drop by several-tenths of a percentage point this spring and census spending will boost the nation's gross domestic product by 1/10 of a percentage point during the first quarter of this year and by 2/10 of a percentage point during the second quarter.
"The census has a very positive effect on the economy," Rebecca Blank, Under Secretary for Economic Affairs at Commerce, told ABC News. "The hope, of course, is that this is going to be hitting just as the prime economic growth and employment are picking up, so that it will help that acceleration."
The Census Bureau is hiring about 1.2 million temporary workers this year, with 800,000 of those people coming onboard in April and May.
But watchdogs have already criticized the Bureau's hiring effort. Earlier this year the Commerce Department's inspector general Todd Zinser reported that the Bureau had squandered around $5.6 million by paying over 15,000 employees who never even worked a full day for the government.
When the Bureau sent out over 140,000 workers last fall to update mailing lists and maps, 10,235 of them did not work at all but earned about $3.4 million for attending training and another 5,028 employees raked in $2.2 million but worked less than a single day, Zinser found.