The U.S. Census Bureau bandwagon travels a long road during the year as the agency tries to raise awareness and count the heads of each U.S. resident. This year's outreach efforts have been extensive, and they appear to be paying off along most of the Grand Strand.
According to the 2010 Census Web site, which posts updated data Monday through Friday, Horry and Georgetown counties and Brunswick County, N.C., overall are posting better numbers in the percentage of census forms mailed back by households that received them than residents did in 2000.
Horry County had hit its 2000 participation rate of 57 percent by Wednesday. Georgetown County already is at 64 percent, surpassing its 2000 rate of 48 percent. Brunswick County also has made significant gains over its 46 percent rate in 2000, coming in at 65 percent so far this year.
Nationally, the census mail participation rate was 63 percent as of Wednesday; in 2000, it was 72 percent. South Carolina stands at 63 percent, versus 65 percent in 2000. North Carolina is at 65 percent; in 2000, it was 66 percent.
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"Generally, we're very happy with where we are at this point," said B.J. Welborn, spokeswoman for the U.S. Census Bureau in the Charlotte regional office. "The important thing to remember is we're coming out door-to-door. ... Some states are doing very well."
The form asks 10 questions about each member of a household, and forms must be mailed back; there is no online component. Welborn said mail-in results will be tabulated until May 3, so there is still a window of opportunity to post the forms through the middle of this month. She said census takers will begin going door-to-door around May 1, continuing probably into July.
"We're hoping people take [the mail-in] seriously because it will save taxpayer money and save a knock on your door," said Welborn, adding that it costs about $57 per visit by a census taker to gather information in person.
Welborn said more than 90 percent of those who mail in their forms won't get census visits, "but there are exceptions."
"We have a lot of safety nets," Welborn said. "You could get visited in one of our measurements to see how well we did, or it could be something else ... we get a lot of jokesters out there who don't take it seriously - Klingon is not a race."
If you still haven't gotten your form, don't be alarmed, yet. According to the Web site, some forms are still being mailed out. If you haven't received it by Monday, you can pick one up at one of the Questionnaire Assistance Centers established around the area. Or, you can call 866-872-6868 and workers will either take the information over the phone or mail a form.
For those who wonder, "What's the point?" it's all about money and services.
"In the long run, it's going to bring more money back into this area," said Maxwell Biggs, manager of the census office in Florence. "The higher our numbers and more accurate the count, we get more representation in Congress, and it just brings more money" - money that translates into more for the community, such as schools, public-works projects and emergency services.
The Census Bureau currently is recruiting for census takers, and Biggs said the bureau is testing at about 20 to 25 locations per day. He said there is a big focus on Horry County right now, where about 1,000 additional people are needed.
"Especially in Horry County, it's really tough right now," said Biggs, citing the problems of a large tourist area with a transient population. "We're struggling to find enough qualified applicants. We're recruiting very hard and heavy so we can get people."