Opinion Extra

Hatcher: Be part of biggest domestic mobilization ever

Nearly 100 million people were expected to watch the Indianapolis Colts take on the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV Sunday. A few weeks later, the U.S. Census Bureau will begin its massive job of counting the nation's more than 300 million people - about three times the largest TV audience ever recorded for a Super Bowl.

Beginning in mid-March, we will send 2010 Census questionnaires to every household in the nation. It's very important that you fill out the form and mail it back. It's estimated that for every 1 percent of households that return the form, the federal government saves between $80 million and $90 million.

That's because it takes an army of census workers to count people who don't mail back the questionnaire. The census will hire about 1.4 million people to conduct the 2010 census, most of them going door-to-door to get those forms completed in America's biggest domestic mobilization.

We expect the mail-back response rate will surpass 60 percent in 2010; it was 67 percent for Census 2000. But we hope it's higher.

Think about it this way: If every household watching the Super Bowl mails back the questionnaire, taxpayers could save several hundred million dollars and get a complete count to boot. So it's no coincidence that several commercials airing during the Super Bowl will feature the census.

As April 1, Census Day, approaches, keep in mind:

- The census is easy. This year's questionnaire, the shortest since the first census in 1790, consists of 10 questions, which should take less than 10 minutes per person to complete.

- The census is safe. Personal information collected cannot be shared with anyone by law, with penalties of up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $250,000 for anyone who discloses personal information.

- The census is important. Census data determine how seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are allocated among the 50 states and how state and local governments are redistricted. Census statistics also are used to determine distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funds every year.

As Super Bowl fans can attest, "good hands" are critical to winning. As we enjoy the game this year, let's reflect on the 2010 census slogan: "It's In Our Hands."

We'll all be winners if every household fills out the census questionnaire and mails it back.