More than 500 incidents reported, up from 180 in 2000

WASHINGTON — More Americans chose to participate in this year's US census than in the 2000 survey, but workers going door-to-door to follow up have also faced more harassment, a US official said Wednesday.

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said 72 percent of occupied US households had returned the mailed questionnaires dispatched as part of the decennial survey, up from a 67 percent response rate in 2000.

"This was a glorious success given that all survey professionals expected a lower rate," he said.

But the work of following up with those who chose not to respond proved more difficult than in 2000, with workers facing a rise in assaults and finding it harder to track people down at their homes.

Follow-up census workers went to some 47 million homes to conduct face-to-face interviews with people who failed to respond to the mailed questionnaires.

At around 22 percent of those homes, repeated efforts to elicit information failed, forcing surveyors to rely on a neighbor or building manager for information about the tenants. That was up from 17 percent in 2000.

"There are a lot of different reasons, this tracks trends in surveys," Groves said. "It's harder to get a hold of us than it used to be."

"And then there's a reluctance in that contrast between 17 and 22 (percent)... people who open the door, they're at home, and they say 'I don't want to do this.'"

The percentage of people who refused to fill out the form, compared with those who simply weren't at home, was not yet clear, Groves said. But the number of attacks on census workers appeared to be on the rise.

"I believe the up-to-date figure is now over 500," Groves said, cautioning that the figure included a wide range of incidents.

"Some of those are minor things. An angry duck attacked one of our enumerators and she has bites on one of her ankles, she will survive," he said.

But other cases were more serious, he acknowledged, and the figure appeared to be a substantial increase from the estimated 180 incidents in 2000.

"Others are horrible events, there have been carjackings, there have been assaults, folks have been shot at," he said.

In June, the Census Bureau said it had counted 132 incidents where a weapon was pulled or the census taker was threatened with one; 88 in which the census taker was physically assaulted, and around a dozen in which surveyors were held against their will.

Still, Groves pointed out that only a tiny percentage of census workers encountered violence.

"We have knocked about 100 million times on doors... and we have 500 of those 100 million that produced bad outcomes."

The US census, which is mandated by the constitution, aims to count each person living in the United States, and track information about income and race. It does not gather information on immigration status.

The completed information must be submitted by the end of the year and detailed statistics from the census will be made public in small portions tackling different subjects over the course of the following three years.