Today is Census Day! April Fools!


Unlike my colleague Jen Doll, I have not filled out my census form yet, for the simple reason that I haven’t received it. It’s possible that my upstairs neighbors have it, or that the local stray cats are using it as a litter box — since the Census Bureau helpfully addresses all mail to “Resident,” it’s not like anyone in a multiple-household dwelling can really lay claim to their own form.

If you, like me, awoke this morning with visions of landing in the Census hoosegow, rest assured: Just because today is the deadline for handing in census forms does not mean that today is actually the deadline for handing in census forms. Anyone who hasn’t received a form yet is instructed to wait for one to arrive in the mail.

But what if you’re worried that your form has arrived, but then walked? Well, you could go to the website, where you can find forms in both English in Spanish helpfully marked “form is not printable.” Or you could call the census hotline at 866-872-6868, and walk through the automatic help system:

Hello. You’ve reached the Census 2010 helpline. … To order a census form in English or another language, say, “Request census materials.”

Request census materials.

Which would you like? Say “English” or “I’d like another language.”

(Not that I’d be able to answer this question if I only spoke a language other than English, but:) English.

I need to know if you have your Census ID. This number appears on any census forms you may have received from us already…

Say “no” — if, for example, you do have not have any census forms, which describes anyone who’s gotten this far in the menu — you’re told that you can’t order one, and need to wait for one in the mail. “If you do not receive a questionnaire by April 12,” concludes the census-bot, “please give us a call back.”

April 12, it appears, is the real date you need to keep in mind: As is spelled out in what appears to be a hurriedly-posted message atop the well-hidden Census FAQ, “You will not need the ID # or Barcode Information after April 12” to get a replacement form. Only if you continue to ignore the bureau’s entreaties — which, after May 1, will include census takers actually ringing your doorbell (though not mine, because it’s broken) — will Ed Begley Jr. and his jackbooted thugs arrive at your door to to levy their $5,000 fine.

With customer service like this, you will perhaps not find it surprising that according to the official Census Participation counter, only 52 percent of American households have returned their forms so far. In my Brooklyn census tract, which features a larger-than-average share of people who might have trouble saying “I can’t speak English” in English, the response rate is a piddling 33 percent. Or maybe it’s just those darned cats.