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Across U.S., it's census time

Mail-in return rates are not measured below the county level, but in 2000 Albany County saw a 76 percent mail-in return versus the national average of 72 percent.

This year, the Census Bureau will be updating regional returns as they come in at www.2010.census.gov.

For every one percent of the population that returns a mail-in form, the government will save $85 million by avoiding having workers going door-to-door, according to the Census Bureau. The bureau expects to hire 635,000 temporary workers to conduct these follow-up interviews, which will begin in May.

The Census Bureau is also trying to increase return rates through an aggressive advertising campaign. While some might view this as wasteful, Sweet said mailing out a notice before sending the questionnaire increases the mail-in return rate by 6 to 12 percent.

"Research has definitely shown that it's effective," she said. "The biggest cost is in chasing down the households we don't get a questionnaire back from."

Improving local returns might seem like a difficult task, but Messina said he's taking every opportunity to speak about the census in the media and will be making information about the census and help filling it out available through the Town Clerk's office.

"It's just the sort of thing that can't be taken any way other than very seriously," Messina said. "These things all have a direct impact on us."

Census figures show the population of Bethlehem growing from 1990 to 2000, and the official estimated town population for 2008 was 33,095.

Those figures show the town's population to be older than the national average and (according to the 2000 census) 95 percent white, and fairly affluent in terms of average income and poverty levels.

Messina said he is not expecting significant growth in this year's population figures.

"I think things have been very stable, and they've been stable because the economy has been as such that there hasn't been a lot of new homes," he said.

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