Is The Census Wasting Tax Dollars?

By Amy Davis

HOUSTON - You're asking Amy why the census is wasting tax dollars. Several of you have e-mailed to complain, but not about the actual census questionnaire.

You want to know how much it cost the government to mail millions of letters in advance of the census just to let people know they're about about to receive the Census in the mail. KPRC Local 2 investigative reporter Amy Davis did some digging for the answer.

We keep hearing that getting a good census count helps cities get more money; but some of you think there would be more money to go around if the census would stop sending reminder letters.

Mail carriers may do the heavy lifting when it comes to delivering all the notices and reminders from the U.S. Census Bureau, but Diana Elsby said it's taxpayers that pick up the tab.

"It's just a big waste of government money ? taxpayer's money," said Elsby.

The letter that set Elsby off arrived in her mailbox last week. It reads, "Dear Resident, About one week from now, you will receive a 2010 census form in the mail."

"The electric company doesn't send you a letter saying your bill's coming next week," reasoned Elsby. "It just didn't make sense to me."

So how much did it cost to print and mail the letters to every home in America? The U.S. Census Bureau tells us it cost you about $85 million.

"It's a waste," said Elsby.

But that's where the census disagrees. A representative told me as many as 45 percent of Americans are unaware that the census starts this month.

They said it costs $57 to follow up with each household that doesn't send the form back, and that mailing the notices increases the number of people who will respond, so it actually saves money on expensive follow-up.

The Census Bureau sends workers in person to the homes that don't mail the form back in. A Census representative said it sometimes takes several visits before they reach someone at home.

The U.S. Census Bureau said it spends about $1 for every person in the U.S. on all promotion and advertising.

If you have a consumer question to "Ask Amy," send her an e-mail.Copyright 2006 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.