The Census Bureau announced yesterday that Washington area residents, like those in most parts of the country, did a good job of mailing in their census forms.
As a result, the bureau said, there probably will be enough workers to make all the needed follow-up visits to homes even though not as many people signed up for the jobs as officials had originally hoped.
By Thursday afternoon -- 10 days after the official counting day of April 1 -- about 82 percent of Washington area households and 84 percent around the country had filled out their forms and mailed them in. Officials had set a goal of an 80 percent mail response nationwide in planning their budget and work force.
The response rate locally ranged from 68.5 percent in Southeast and Northeast Washington to 89.2 percent in Fairfax County.
Based on past experience, the Census Bureau had planned for a lower return rate in the city than in the suburbs.
Census director Vincent Barabba said the response in Washington has been "much higher than we expected."
"I'm pleased to announce that this very important undertaking is going very, very well," Deputy Commerce Secretary Luther Hodges, Jr. announced at a news conference. The Census Bureau is part of his department.
"For every 1 percent mailed back over the 80 percent target," Hodges added, "some $2.5 million in follow-up costs can be saved."
Richard C. Burt, chief of the Census Bureau's field division, said a target of a 60 percent mail response was set for Washington and most other urban centers and a goal of 82 percent for suburbs and small towns.
The cities "tend to have lower education and income levels," Burt said, "and the people there are probably more suspicious of the federal government."
Generally, officials said, the response rate follows socioeconomic levels, with poorer areas having a lower response than those that are mainly middle-class.
For the entire District of Columbia, the mail return so far is 70.4 percent with a 71.8 percent return in the Northwest and Southwest quadrants and 68.5 percent in Southeast-Northeast.
The overall return rate for the Washington suburbs is 85.5 percent, including 79.8 percent in Prince George's County, 85 percent in Montgomery County, 88.7 percent in the Alexandria-Arlington district (which includes a string of nearby Virginia counties), and 89.2 percent in Fairfax County.
People have until Tuesday to mail back their forms before census-takers begin going door-to-door to help fill out questionnaires that have not been returned or were not completed.
Partly, because of the higher mail response, Barabba said he was confident there would be enough temporary census employes available for the door-to-door work. Throughout the country, the bureau had been seeking about 275,000 census-takers, including about 4,000 in the Washington area.