More Wasteful Census Spending

by Sal on March 9, 2010

in Politics,Stupid government

I’m too stunned even to write a proper introduction to this:

Dear Resident,

About one week from now, you will receive a 2010 Census form in the mail.  When you receive your form, please fill it out and mail it in promptly.

Your response is important.  Results from the 2010 Census will be used to help each community get its fair share of government funds for highways, schools, health facilities, and many other programs you and your neighbors need.  Without a complete, accurate census, your community may not receive its fair share.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Robert M. Groves
Director, U.S. Census Bureau

Following the letter, there are instructions in six different languages, telling me to go to for help in completing my census form when it arrives.

So the government wastes probably millions of dollars to send a letter to tell me that the census is coming.  Let’s estimate a cost here, since there is no available data for how much it cost to send this letter.

  • The Census Bureau reports that as of 2000, there were 105,480,101 U.S. households.
  • The letter was sent pre-sorted first class, which for a 1-ounce piece of bar coded mail is 38.2 cents per piece.   (Source:
  • Typical cost of a sheet of paper is $0.005 when purchased in bulk.
  • I am going to assume another $0.005 for envelopes and ink.  It is likely more, but it will do for the purposes of illustration.
  • Assume an average of 5 seconds to fold and stuff an envelope, and a labor cost of minimum wage, $7.25 / hr.

This does not even take into account the labor cost of sorting the envelopes, delivering them to the post office, and the usual inefficiencies associated with government work.  So let’s see what we’ve got

  • Total postage cost:  105,480,101 x 0.382 = $40,293,398.50
  • Total paper/envelope/ink cost:  $1,054,801.01
  • Total labor cost:  A worker at maximum efficiency (1 envelope fold and stuff every five seconds) can fold 12 envelopes per minute, and 720 per hour.   At that rate, to fold and stuff 105,480,101 envelopes, it would take 146,500 hours.  At $7.25/hour, the total labor cost would be $1,062,125.
  • The total cost for this mailing, assuming lowest rates and maximum efficiency, is $42,410,324.51.

That’s over 42 million dollars to send out a letter that simply tells people that the Census will be coming in a week.  Now, I know that’s a small number in a budget that has over a $1.5 trillion deficit, but this is illustrative of the fraud and waste that is present in our government.  Who needs a letter to say “The Census is coming!  The Census is coming!”  It will arrive in ten days, and people will either fill it out or not fill it out.  Can anyone name one positive benefit to having this letter mailed?  This is far more wasteful and pointless than the $2.5 million census Super Bowl ad that didn’t make any sense. this one

We need to restore some fiscal sanity to this government of ours.  When a letter as pointless and stupid as this one surfaces, it reminds me in a clear and concrete way why I am a Conservative.  The fact that my hard earned money went to pay for this waste of paper is nauseating.   Just think – if government gets hold of health care, we’ll probably get letters from them to remind us to take our vitamins.  What a waste.

Update: Welcome readers of Neal Boortz, Patriot Room, and Dori Monson.


{ 1 trackback }

Civic Duty: Respond to the Census | Derek Neighbors
April 21, 2010 at 8:45 pm

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Southern Man March 9, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I’m going to play devil’s advocate and argue with you a bit here.

First, the requirement of conducting the census is set in the Constitution, so the government doesn’t really have a choice. It’s not easy to do, and it’s expensive. So I’m not going to complain about the letter I got giving me a heads-up that the long form was on the way. Heck, I’ve already had a personal visit, as my address was on a list to sample for employment data, and that was FAR more costly than the letter.

Second, your argument uses what I call the “fallacy of the long lever” – a tiny amount of money multiplied by some enormous number equals a large sum. It’s the sort of fallacy that lets business managers claim with a straight face that employees checking their email for fifteen minutes per day “costs” industry untold gazillions of dollars per year. It’s a weak way to argue the point, and I prefer that conservatives put forth more reasoned arguments than that.

Third, your analysis (which I already reject as fallacious) is questionable in other ways. You and I have to cough up nearly 40 cents per piece for presorted barcoded first class mail, but the government does not. Your “costs” for paper, ink, and such are simply pulled from thin air. Your labor calculations are irrelevant; all of the printing, folding, stuffing, and sorting is done by machines (really fast and really loud machines), not people, so it might be better to estimate the amortized cost of using those machines instead. Sure, there is a cost associated with this mailing, but I don’t think your calculations are a reasonable way to estimate it. That’s not to say your final result is wrong; if anything, it’s probably low.

And finally, you chop at an inconsequential tree and miss the forest. Check out, where it is reported that the cost of the 2010 census will be about $45 bucks per head, or TRIPLE the cost per person in 2000. Using your numbers, the cost of sending that letter is less than one-third of one percent of the Census budget. And THAT is what we should be screaming about.


YankeeDoodle March 9, 2010 at 2:05 pm

A penny saved is a penny earned. One dime spent to alert me that I’m getting another letter later is one dime too much. Use some common sense Southern Man.


Sal March 9, 2010 at 5:20 pm

@Southern Man – Of course the census is a constitutional requirement. No one is questioning the need for a census and the government spending money to carry it out. Indeed, it is one of the legitimate functions of our government as enumerated in the Constitution. But the founders also expected that the electorate would have basic common sense. We’re all going to be getting the long form in the mail in a week. I don’t see a Constitutional requirement for a freaking reminder letter. WHY is that necessary? What purpose does it serve? Who is going to be more likely to fill out the census because they got this letter in the mail?

Onto the numbers – my estimates on paper/ink were somewhat taken out of context.

As far as postage, you are incorrect. The Post office has its own books and functions as a quasi-private organization. The government technically has to pay for postage, just as you or I do. That particular number, in fact, is very concrete. It is not like the email example (a fallacy on your part, I believe) because the email example is related to cost based on productivity, while the stamp example is a hard cost for a specific good that is countable. Apples and Oranges.

Finally, it is worth getting upset over, not simply because of its cost (and you are right, it does pale in comparison with the entire Census project) but for the simple fact that we are spending a large sum of money by any standard outside of government spending on an act of complete uselessness (the letter, not the census). As I asked in the original post, what is one single beneft that will arise out of this reminder letter? It is just one example in a government that is fraught with wasteful spending, an absurdity that costs the taxpayers $42 million + (you are right, I probably am lowballing it, but I did that intentionally). So I ask you, Southern Man – can you say with a straight face that sending out these letters was worth it?


lADY PATRIOT March 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm



Barry March 10, 2010 at 5:55 pm

I agree completely with how senseless and useless the letter was regardless of the expense. NO ONE, needed that kind of heads up about the census letter coming. Just put clear instructions in that one when its sent out. Like the guy said, people will either do it or they won’t. The letter was totally a waste of what ever it cost and the govt can’t afford the waste right now.

I’m still angry to the ears about not getting a COL increase in my SS but those ******’s have money for this kind of stupidity.


Brian March 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Does this take into account the households (like mine) that received two reminders?


sharonx4 March 12, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Over $42 million, simply outrageous, idiotic, down right stupid. I wonder how many Americans could have been given health insurance for a year for $42 million.

This Country needs help and fast!


payinfull March 22, 2010 at 1:31 pm

The facts are out there if you look. The Census Bureau estimates the cost of the advance letters plus follow-up post cards to be 85 million. This cost is in addition to the 338 million communications campaign. The total budgeted is 7.4 billion, which is 65% more than 2000.
Does anyone really expect the Federal Government to do anything efficiently? Yes, it is sheer madness. If a private business were given this project, it would have been done at a fraction of the cost because they would understand the cost of an additional mailing. The advance letter, if even necessary, would have been inserted in the actual Census mailing. Only the government can operate like this and survive, on our taxes.
Think this is bad, just wait to see what they do with healthcare and everything else they will be controlling.


Laura Poirier April 16, 2010 at 1:14 am

I understand that the census is needed.

I can maybe justify the introduction letter that was sent out.

Radio ads… a little excesive.

Way to many radio ads- what the hell…

TV ads- I know how much those cost…. American Idol… Come on.

Census workers walking the streets- fully outfitted in logoed shirts and trucker hats.
Are you F***ing KIDDING? PRINTED TRUCKER HATS? What a joke.

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