[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/04/01/art.lamayorjk0401.cnn.jpg caption="LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told CNN that the city is being 'very aggressive about reaching out' to historically under-counted groups."]
Washington (CNN) – With a national response rate thus far that is just above 50 percent, there are still challenges to the decennial national head count, the director of the Census Bureau and the mayor of the country’s second largest city told CNN.
Both men spoke Thursday with CNN Chief National Correspondent John King.
“This is a big operation,” Census Director Robert Groves said in an interview on CNN’s John King, USA. The agency head added that for every percentage point increase in the national response rate, the federal government saves $85 million. “So that is our total focus now,” Groves said of the bureau’s efforts to increase the rate at which census forms are returned so that it does not have to employ workers to pay physical visits to non-responsive households.
Because the national head count is used to apportion seats in the House of Representatives, the results of the census also have political implications (in addition to being used to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars annually in federal program money).
But Groves told King his agency does not get into politics. “The purposes of the census, the product of the census is indeed used for political purposes,” he said, “but my side of it, the counting, has to be completely nonpartisan.”
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also spoke with King about his efforts to get census forms returned by the residents of his city.
Villaraigosa acknowledged that Los Angeles’s response rate is running below the national average, but he said his administration is being “very aggressive about reaching out” to the city’s large foreign-born population, young people, renters and other historically under-counted groups.
The mayor also rejected the suggestion by some leaders in the Latino community that Hispanics not participate in the census as a form of protest over their desire for immigration reform.
“That kind of thinking is, frankly, not going to provide the health care, the child care, the education, the services that are provided based on population,” Villaraigosa told King.
The Constitution requires that the census be conducted every ten years. By law, information provided to the Census Bureau is confidential.
Thursday is National Census Day, a day of awareness intended to encourage Americans to complete their census forms. To commemorate the day, the White House released a photo of President Obama completing the form on behalf of the Obama household.
Related: Census Day questions answered