Census Uses Online Map To Track The Count

The Census Bureau on Wednesday unveiled a new Web site where people can follow response to the census. The tool was developed with the help of Google Maps, and it allows you to compare data from different cities.

The Census Bureau on Wednesday unveiled a new Web site where people can track census return rates neighborhood by neighborhood.

The participation rate will be updated each day at 4 p.m., so while not exactly real time, it does provide daily updates of census response rates. The tool was developed with the help of Google Maps, and it allows you to compare data from different cities.

Census Director Robert Groves, who used to live in Ann Arbor, Mich., demonstrated how the map works for reporters on Wednesday. He clicked on Michigan, which has a 20 percent response rate, and then was able to zoom in to Ann Arbor:

"Well, Ann Arbor is actually behind the state as a whole. It's only 12 percent, so Ann Arbor has to get their act together," says Groves.

The census is promoting the map as a way to measure civic pride. The mayors of St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., have already bet barbecue and beer on which of their cities has the best response rate, and Groves hopes it will spur people across the country to mail in their forms. The more who do, he says, the less the census will cost taxpayers:

"This simple act of taking 10 minutes or so of filling out your questionnaire and mail it back ends up being your own little contribution to reducing the federal deficit," Groves says.

That's because the more people who return their forms by mail mean the fewer enumerators who will have to be hired to go door to door later this spring. Groves says every 1 percent of taxpayers who respond by mail saves $85 million in government spending. The census is an elaborate undertaking. Groves says that ensuring every American household gets counted involves a bit of adventure.

"Our folks are on horseback in the Southwest and on mules. We're on ATVs and snowmobiles in Upper Maine. In the mountains of Alaska, we sometimes take a plane in and then we're on a snowmobile and then for a few miles we're walking on snowshoes," Groves says.

It's all part of an effort to get the most accurate population count possible, which will determine not only how $400 billion in government funds are spent but the allocation of congressional districts for the next 10 years.

Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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