Well this is ridiculous (and wasteful and annoying).


Yes, that’s a letter from the Census Bureau telling me to expect another letter from the Census Bureau. Which makes about as much sense as holding a meeting to schedule another meeting (which I do all the time, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying).

Now, I understand what the Census Bureau is trying to accomplish. I get the train of thinking: “If we tell the public to expect the 2010 Census in the mail, they’ll be on the lookout, won’t throw it away. They’ll be more likely to respond.” But going about it this way is kind of like preaching abstinence to a room filled with only prostitutes and nuns. (I think that’s a good analogy anyway. We’ll see.)

People who actually read their mail (i.e. nuns) are going to open the official census questionnaire when it arrives anyway. They may be slightly more alert now that they know it’s coming, but I’m guessing the effect of this heads-up letter will be minimal.

On the other hand, people who don’t read their mail (i.e. hookers) aren’t going to open this letter, so they won’t be on the lookout for the actual census questionnaire — which doesn’t matter, because they’ll probably just throw it out anyway. (NB: I’m not making a value judgment about prostitutes, but the ones I know lead such busy, interesting lives that they have little time for pedestrian matters like mail.)

For future reference, Mr. Robert M. Groves: spend your print budget on envelopes with a little spot color — maybe a bright red, yellow, or orange. Something people will notice. That’ll save you the cost of mailing letters to every household in America twice.

One thought on “Well this is ridiculous (and wasteful and annoying).

  1. Glenn

    We got this same letter yesterday, and I couldn't believe it either. Back in the old days, when I was a government flack, we sure had to be ready to account for what we spent on our postage meters. If we couldn't, well, that's what the carpets were for.

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