WALLA WALLA -- If you weren't mailed a census form, the problem could have been with your post office box.
When the U.S. Census Bureau mailed out millions of census forms earlier this year, post office boxes weren't on the address list. The reason, bureau officials say, is because a post office box isn't a residence.
According to Robert M. Groves, Census Bureau director, "the census is all about counting people where they live and sleep, so we must tie each form to a physical location. (Post office) boxes are not tied to specific housing units, so we can't use them to send the forms to specific housing units."
Other reasons include the fact that post office boxes can be far away from the home of the owner of the box, boxes can be shared by multiple people who live in different housing units and some boxes are not attached to households but to businesses.
Census workers will visit houses that rely on post office boxes between May 1 and July 10, officials said.
The post office box issue might explain why Waitsburg, which had a 40 percent response rate to the mailed census forms, is lagging behind other areas. Many people in the area get their mail through post office boxes, such as Elizabeth Callahan who said she didn't receive a form as well as "a friend up the street, who didn't get one either."
Callahan said she was able to find a form at a local hardware store which was acting as a census help center. But yet another resident, Donna Murray, questioned the wisdom of not letting people with post office boxes respond.
"How can we return something we haven't received?" she wrote in a letter to the Union-Bulletin. A recent news story encouraged people to mail in their census forms "because a stamp costs 44 cents, but a visit to your home (by a census taker) will cost around $50. Is this one more way for Obama to create jobs, no matter the cost?"
But Groves and other officials maintain the reason is simple. "The enumeration is driven by where people live, not by where they receive their mail," Groves wrote in a blog entry.
The concern about people with post office boxes not getting their forms isn't confined to Walla Walla County. According to Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, it's a big problem for many small towns.
According to The Rural Blog, the concern has sparked articles by Adam Young for the Harlan Daily Enterprise in Kentucky and Sandra Baltazar Martinez for the Santa Fe (N.M.) New Mexican.
Young reported that in some Kentucky counties people who receive their mail by post offices boxes is unusually high. "County officials have recently reported that 2010 census forms will not be sent to P.O. boxes ... and as a result, thousands of people could go uncounted," Young wrote.
Andy Porter can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.