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Census do-overs pose challenge; City man takes pass on seconds.

Byline: Danielle M. Horn

WORCESTER - The woman who has visited Bernard R. Kingsley's apartment three times within the last month is nothing if not persistent.

Hired by the U.S. Census Bureau to collect census questionnaires from households that have not returned them, she has unsuccessfully tried to get Mr. Kingsley to fill out a form for 382B Sunderland Road, Apt. 23B. First, she handed him a questionnaire. When that didn't work, she asked him questions and attempted to fill it out for him.

A researcher at Boston University and a professor of marketing and statistics at Becker College, Mr. Kingsley hasn't refused to provide the demographic information the U.S. Census Bureau seeks every decade. Rather, he simply won't provide it twice.

Mr. Kingsley, 62, said he received two questionnaires in March: one addressed to 382 Sunderland Road, Apt. 23B - his legal address - and the other, addressed to 382B Sunderland Road, Apt. 23B. Though written differently, the addresses are the same.

Mr. Kingsley filled out the first form and returned it with a letter noting that he was mistakenly sent two forms. A month later, the enumerator knocked on his door, looking for him to fill out the second form.

According to Mr. Kingsley, the enumerator was directed to get a response even though she knew the form was a duplicate. Many apartments in the 180-unit Redwood Hills complex also received two forms, he said.

"I'm not going to be double-counted," Mr. Kingsley said. "This is a huge waste of time and resources. It seems to me it would be easier to kill the duplicate form now than to have to deal with it later."

Census answers are used to direct federal funds and determine how many legislators each state has in Congress. Each person counted in the census represents $2,200 yearly in federal dollars to the state for services, including hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior centers and public works projects.

The mail-back response deadline was April 1. Since then, enumerators have visited unresponsive households - and, in Mr. Kingsley's case, heads of households that didn't fill out two forms.

Census officials have said taxpayers would save $1.5 million in follow-up costs if every household mailed back its form. For every percentage point increase in the mail-back participation rate, taxpayers save about $85 million.

Alexandra S. Barker, media specialist for the Census Bureau's Boston region, acknowledged that some residents have been asked to fill out questionnaires twice, and that Census workers will weed out duplicate responses in the next phase of the Census process. She couldn't estimate how many homes may have received two forms, but noted that it would take millions of unreturned duplicates to alter the nation's participation rate by a single percentage point.

Households may have received two forms if their addresses were written one way in the U.S. Postal Service's database and another way by canvassers who scoped out neighborhoods last year, recording the addresses of occupied homes. The confusion was most likely to result in apartment complexes, which often designate individual units with letters and numbers.

"We created an address file from different databases, and we eliminated duplicates of exact matches," Ms. Barker said. "But if the addresses were slightly off (like in Mr. Kingsley's case), we couldn't know for sure if that wasn't a different household. The only way we could find out is during the collection process."

Mr. Kingsley argued that Census workers should be able to delete the incorrect address once they learn a resident has already filled out a form. Ms. Barker, however, said enumerators, temporary employees, don't have access to that information. The woman who seeks Mr. Kingsley's second form couldn't just type his name into a database and see that he had already completed the census.

Filling out a second form allows the bureau to account for each form that was mailed out, and delete duplicates later in the census-taking process, Ms. Barker said.

"There are a lot of operations at the same time, and at the end is when they all meet," she said.

Mr. Kingsley believes the whole process is absurd.

"I'm frustrated by this," he said. "If my students were collecting information this way, I'd tell them to clean it up. I realize in the whole scheme of things, this probably won't throw everything all off. I just don't think anyone should be double-counted, and I don't have faith that they'll be able to fix this down the line.

"But, they've spent so much time working to collect this data, so maybe they'll spend as much time eliminating it."
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 29, 2010
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