Half of all Maine households that received 2010 census forms had mailed them back by Thursday, the day the U.S. Census Bureau dubbed National Census Day.

That compares with 52 percent nationally, and census officials in Maine consider the state’s response to be good.

“I’m happy that we’re so close to the national average,” said Kelsey Robinov, the census office manager in Portland. “We’re making slow and steady progress.”

In 2000, Maine’s overall response rate was 61 percent, compared with a national average of 67 percent.

So far this year, Maine’s response is being led by residents in Androscoggin and Sagadahoc counties, where 57 percent and 56 percent, respectively, had returned the forms. Cumberland County stood at 53 percent. Rural counties had the lowest returns, with Franklin at 38 percent and Washington at 40 percent.

Rural counties have many remote camps and vacation homes, officials say, making residents harder to reach by mail. Census checkers will try to pick up those homes during visits beginning this month and running through July.

April 1 is the day the bureau uses as a baseline for who’s living in the United States. It’s the day by which the agency would like to receive the forms, which were mailed and delivered in March to every household in the country. Some people are confused by the date, however, and don’t mail the forms until April 1, so the bureau expects to see a surge in the coming days.

The census is a constitutionally mandated head count that is done every 10 years. The goal is to account for everyone living in the country on April 1, regardless of immigration or citizenship status.

The information is used to draw congressional and legislative districts. It’s also used to apportion federal money. Maine, a rural state with an aging population, is ranked eighth in the amount of funding it gets, at $1,924 per person.

Some people ignore the census forms or actively oppose filling them out. Some anti-government groups say the census asks for information that should be kept private.

Response rates vary widely across the country.

Nationally, states in the Midwest were reporting the highest return rates Thursday. South Dakota and Wisconsin led the country, with 62 percent. Alaska had the lowest return rate, 41 percent, followed by New Mexico and Louisiana, at 44 percent and 45 percent.

Within the states, cities tend to be difficult places to collect census data, especially those with large immigrant populations.

In Maine, Augusta was topping Maine’s response list Thursday with 59 percent of households returning forms. Lewiston was at 54 percent, Bangor was at 50 percent and Portland was at 48 percent.

“We’re keeping our eye on Portland,” said Tia Costello, a coordinator at the regional census office in Boston.

Officials in Portland have been making extra efforts to reach out to hard-to-count residents, and will start a reminder campaign later this month.

The Census Bureau will accept forms in the mail for the next few weeks. After that, census workers will visit households that haven’t returned forms to follow up.

 

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

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