Census shouldn't ignore those with P.O. boxes

Why not send a letter to the post office box asking folks to contact the US Census Bureau?

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Counting every person in the United States - estimated to be at least 300 million - is a huge, expensive and complicated undertaking.

Yet, it doesn't have to be as complicated nor as expensive as the federal government is making it. Those who are overseeing the U.S. Census Bureau are so focused on "counting people where they live and sleep" they are not using common sense to more efficiently find and count people.

This became apparent when a few readers from Touchet and Waitsburg contacted the Union-Bulletin to alert us that many in their towns were missed by the Census. They reported that neither they nor their neighbors had been mailed Census forms.

U-B reporter Andy Porter looked into this and reported last week that no mistake had been made - the oversight was intentional.

When the U.S. Census Bureau mailed out millions of census forms earlier this year, post office boxes weren't on the address list, Porter wrote. 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, Porter was told by Census officials.

We understand that Census officials want to tie each person to a specific location. This goal could be undermined if the nation was flooded with Census forms. A person or an entire family could be counted twice.

But ignoring post office boxes, the destination for a significant amount of the nation's mail, seems to be counterproductive.

This is a big problem for small towns across the country. It is also an expensive one. It is estimated that the cost of counting a person or family increases from 44 cents - the price of a stamp - to about $50 to hire somebody to seek out and count each person.

Since the Census Bureau mailed a pre-Census letter to all those who receive mail at home alerting them the Census form was on its way, couldn't a similar letter have been sent to every Post Office box asking those folks to contact the Census Bureau for a form if they had not received a form at their home?

This could add up to significant savings for taxpayers and a reduction in frustration for those who get their mail at a Post Office box.

Most people understand the importance of the Census - determining congressional representation as well as allocating federal funds - so they want to take part or are at least willing to participate.

Census officials should help as much as possible by reaching out, and doing so as cost effectively as possible.

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