Thursday, March 5, 2009

American Community Survey

We received a rather 'official' looking letter from the US Census Bureau early last week. It was a one page letter saying that our household has been chosen to participate in "a very important national survey, the American Community Survey". It also said that we will receive a questionnaire in the mail in a few days time and we are supposed to fill it up and mail it back to them promptly :P Okkkayyy, anything lah.

After getting that first letter, I went to read up about the American Community Survey. This is a new nationwide survey that they are trying out. The US Census Board would select a sample of 3 million households in America annually as opposed to the old system of a big and comprehensive survey every 10 years. Oh, out of 300 million people in America, we got picked? Why can't we be so lucky when it comes to the lottery! :P Anyway, true enough, this big packet arrived a few days later.

It's so big and thick. I guess they are pretty serious about this survey thing. They even printed that "Your Response Is Required By Law" in bold at the front of the envelope! Hmmphhh, and we used to laugh at my grandma whenever the 'banci' people came around back in the day. She would get all nervous and tell me that we have to answer those questions properly. She would say "when the banci people come and ask us questions, we better answer properly. if not, the cheng hoo will send us to lockup one you know". Hahaha, I don't know who told her that but looks like my Ah Mah is almost right! Don't play play with the banci people. Your response is required by law! (Translation : banci = census, cheng hoo = government, lockup = jail/prison, ah mah = grandma)

Alritey, this is what you can find inside the giant envelope. Another letter from the Director of the US Census Bureau, some FAQ pamphlet about the survey AND a guide to the survey. Isn't the FAQ pamphlet and guide to the survey almost the same thing? You would think that they would just combine it into one single pamphlet to save paper and printing cost.

Of course this is the main attraction. A 28 page survey booklet and a return envelope. There are questions regarding the age, race, income, employment, veteran status of each resident of the household as well as other data like commute time to work, home value and others. We took a quick glance through the booklet and said we will get around to answering it later. 28 pages...it's not some quick 5 minute survey :P

Two days later, we received this postcard in the mail. Guess who it's from? Yup, from the Director of the US Census Bureau again! Wow, we sure have friends in high places. Three letters from the Director of the US Census Bureau in a space of one and a half weeks! ;P It's just a short note to remind us to complete the survey and mail it back to them.

Okay la Steve (yeah, I figured we are on a first name basis now after all these letters), you win! We will work on completing that survey NOW.

It took us about half an hour to get it done and now it's all ready to be posted back to them! Steve better be next to the "US Census Bureau mailbox", waiting for this package.

I was just wondering, is collecting data this way really effective? How many people out of the 3 million households selected actually bothered to do it? Also, is it really necessary to send so many reminders? Seriously, we do not need a letter to tell us that a survey is being sent to us and another 2 days later to remind us to do it. How much do you think it cost for the entire process? All the postages as well as paper, envelopes and printing cost? If they were to stop sending out the initial letter, combine the FAQ and guide into one pamphlet and omit sending out the reminder postcard, I think they might save about $2-$3 per household. Multiply that with 3 million? Yup...there will be a savings of about 6 to 9 million buckaroos! In this hard economic times, don't you think there are better things to do with tax payers money then waste it on things like that?

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