Victoria's Census form return rate better than state, national average


April 3, 2010 at 4:02 p.m.
Updated April 2, 2010 at 11:03 p.m.

Victoria County can pat itself on the back, at least for now.

The county boasts a higher U.S. census form return rate than both the state and national average.

Why is this so? Census and other leaders, as well as outside analysts, point to three factors:

A broad and grassroots local Census awareness blitz.

Targeted efforts to encourage participation in Victoria County areas known historically for low participation levels.

Civic pride. Could it be residents here just care a bit more than in other places?

Preliminary results aside, work for census form collectors remains far from being done. Efforts next shift to retrieving forms from those who failed to mail them in.

Communities nationwide urged residents on Thursday, Census Day, to fill out and mail in their 2010 Census forms.

The U.S. Census Bureau mailed or hand-delivered about 134 million census questionnaires to households in March, according to the bureau. To date, a little more than half of all U.S. households returned their forms to the government.

In Texas, 46 percent of households returned forms as of Thursday. In Victoria County, the rate is 53 percent.

"These are preliminary numbers. They are not final numbers," Gloria Gonzalez, who works to sync efforts by the Census Bureau with area organizations, said. "We still have a ways to go, but we are very pleased that Victoria, right now, looks good."

Gonzalez pointed to the census advertising blitz and coordinated grassroots efforts by churches, schools, civic groups and businesses as reasons for widespread awareness. Work began in January 2009, she said.

"Because of all that, residents realize the importance of filling out the census form and sending it back. They realize a lot is at stake," Gonzalez said. "In Victoria in particular, I have to credit O.C. Garza."

Garza is a spokesman for the city but he also served as chairman of Victoria's Census Count Committee. In early-stage planning meetings, Garza said the committee studied areas that historically show low census participation levels. Then, the group decided to ramp up awareness efforts there.

"We also tried to find a diverse group of community volunteers, who live or work in those hard-to-reach areas, to serve on our committee," Garza said. "We wanted representatives for those target groups."

Groups that typically exhibit low Census form return rates include homeless people, senior citizens, the poor and uneducated, and non English-speaking residents. Victoria's south side and Bloomington also exhibit poor return rates, Garza said.

When it comes to returning census forms, everyone counts. Responses enable Victoria County to capture more of the $400 billion in funds the federal government will disperse based on the census, Gonzalez said. Census numbers also are used to distribute congressional seats.

Maybe the better-than-average return rate points to civic pride. The Victoria Advocate historically enjoys one of the best per-capita circulation penetration rates in the country. Crossroads residents seem to care about their news, which means information about the census finds more people.

This newspaper's high readership may also reflect civic pride?

Lloyd Potter is director of the Texas State Data Center, which distributes Texas census information and disseminates population estimates.

"Where there's a greater sense of community attachment, it is more likely for residents to participate in the census," Potter said. "Maybe people in Victoria do care about their community and they know the census is important for them to complete. Maybe they want to better their community."

Potter also attributes a lack of uniform effort across the state as reason why other Texas counties fell behind Victoria County in participation levels.

Local efforts now center on analyzing return data. Gonzalez and Garza want next to target groups that failed by Thursday to return Census forms.

On May 1, people who failed to return their forms will receive phone calls and visits to ensure all are counted.

"This community, when you explain to it how important a Census is, really responds well," Garza said. "They understand there are literally millions of dollars at stake."



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