So how’s the Census doing?  I’m glad you asked.

Nationwide, last I checked, the participation rate stands at about 50 percent. Not too shabby, if you want to count half the people. And I’ve met a lot of folks I’d rather not count.

For those of you who feel lucky because you didn’t get the long form – don’t. There is no long form this year, only the short version. Since 1940 a certain number of households, often one-out-of-six, got a longer proctologist-like version that asked about everything from whether a household had indoor plumbing to how long it took to drive to work every day. Don’t fret. The data are still being collected, but now through the American Community Survey.

But let’s return to participation and look at what states are doing the best.

North and South Dakota lead the U.S. in participation. Maybe this is some kind of state sibling rivalry. Then again, it’s easy to be ahead when you have so few people living in a place that’s so cold and there’s not a hell of a lot else to do. Oddly, the top five states are contiguous (the list includes, in order as I write this, Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin). Northern states, all of them.

Look at the map below. Darker colors represent lower participation, lighter colors represent states whose residents enjoy filling out federal forms on time. See that dark ribbon of states along the lower half of the U.S., stretching from sea to shining sea? How often do Georgia and Alabama get the chance to be grouped with California? Not often. A few geographic oddballs also join the under-50 percent club: New York and Maine and West Virginia, the last one easily explained. Those people have better things to do, like partying before the Final Four.

Want to look at a neat interactive map to track participation? Go here and follow the directions. You can look at states or even burrow down to the county level. But I did some of the work for you.

In Georgia, Taliaferro County comes in last place with a measly 18 percent participation rate, followed by Glascock, Webster, Baker, and Echols counties. Counties in Metro Atlanta have the highest participation. In order, the top counties at the time I wrote this were Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, and Cobb.

And now the fun part.

Dig deeper, down to the city level. Or do what I did, which was download a spreadsheet of all cities, counties, and census tracts in Georgia because, I admit it, I’m a numbers nerd. A place called Edge Hill comes in at a whopping 10 percent participation rate. Last place.


Edge Hill is tiny. It lies in Glascock County and is, according to Wikipedia at least, the smallest town in Georgia. I’ve never been there except through the magic of Google Maps, but in the 1990 Census it boasted 22 residents. By 2000, the number had shot up to 30. Someone got busy and popped out a few kids, because by 2008 it was up to 33 folks. If only 10 percent have filled out their 2010 census form, that means a grand total of 3 participants this year.

With small size, apparently, comes small responsibility.

I’ll keep monitoring Edge Hill for further developments.

So what’s it all mean? Well, you have to love the Census folks for choosing April 1 as their big “send in your form” day. But I did mine, or rather my wife did ours and I assume she included me in the household. Unfortunately, my home county – Clarke – is below the state and national participation average, even though we have a snazzy Facebook group page designed to get people to fill out their forms.

Then again, it’s springtime. There are better things to do.

Barry Hollander

Barry Hollander

Former hack at daily newspapers, now hack journalism professor at the University of Georgia, number cruncher and longtime Net user, caffeine addict, writer of weird fiction, and a semi-retired god in an online fantasy world where godhood suits him quite well, thank you very much. He also blogs at

  1. Don’t mean to carp, but if you send out a communication that asks how many people are in a household on April 1, why would you expect an answer a week or two ahead of time? There is something unsettling about our government assuming that everyone knows where they’ll be tomorrow. If a person is in jail, he’s not supposed to be listed at home.

  2. Frank Povah

    I also thought that strange, Monica.

    Mind you, it’s not “the government” at fault is it? Surely it’s the statisticians who put the thing together?

    I actually phoned in and asked about that, but the thing that answered the phone – it sounded eerily like a human female – didn’t comprehend what I was getting at.

    I explained that though the possibility may have been remote, there was the chance that I could be killed in a train wreck or bitten by a rabid candidate in the forthcoming primaries after filling out the form and so would be either in the morgue, the cold, cold clay or the hospital and so the information on my form would be incorrect.

    “No, no,” it replied. “You just need to send the form in before April 1. People who are living somewhere else will get their own form to fill in.”

    “Oh, I see,” I replied. “Thank you.” I know when I’m beaten.

    It reminded me of the time years ago when Adobe’s InDesign was first released. There was a puzzling glitch in the installation and I rang the help number. A thing programmed to sound like a polite indigene of the Indian sub-continent answered the call and I explained that I had an installation problem. “This is the Information Desk,” it said, “Please call the Support Desk on———(whatever the number was). I did so.

    Lo and behold, the same thing answered. “This is the Support Desk,” it said. “Calls to this number are charged at the rate of $3.50 per minute.” (I forget the actual amount).

    “Hold your horses,” I responded. “Wasn’t I just talking to you at the Information Desk?”

    “Yes, sir,” it replied, “but now I am at the Support Desk.”

    As I live and breathe, it’s true.

  3. Barry Hollander

    A number of people noted the odd April 1 problem, but I suspect for most families it was no big deal. I could easily say my two teenagers would unfortunately still be in my household on April 1, despite all my best efforts to get them to move elsewhere.

    I love the Adobe story, Frank. My recent story: was sitting in a college committee the other day and our first five minutes focused on how some on the committee — didn’t like the name of the committee. It was an hour of my life I’ll never get back.

    As a Census update, Georgia is at 50 percent participation, the nation at 54 percent.

    The big news — the mail must have run in Edge Hill. It’s up to 67 percent participation. Wow, that’s two-thirds of its 33 people (which my higher-order math suggests is 22 folks counted).

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