NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Census Bureau estimated Monday that Americans could save the federal government $1.5 billion by mailing their 2010 census forms instead of waiting for a census taker to show up at the door.
The announcement came on the same day the bureau mailed the first 120 million forms to households across the nation as part of the Constitutionally mandated population count.
"Mailing back your census form when it arrives will contribute to saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars," Census Bureau director Robert Groves said in a statement. "It's a lot less expensive to get responses back by mail than it is to send census takers to knock on doors of households that failed to respond."
Groves said it costs the government 42 cents for each pre-paid envelope when a household mails back the form. That compares with a cost of $57 to send a census taker to check on households that do not respond, he said.
While everyone living in the United States is required by law to participate in the census, the Bureau estimates that some 48 million households will not respond by mail.
That's partly because many of the forms being mailed Monday will arrive at foreclosed homes, the bureau said. However, many others could simply disregard the forms.
As a result, the agency expects to hire 650,000 census workers to begin following up with households in May.
The push to get Americans to respond via mail comes after a major media campaign to create awareness about the 2010 census, which included a high-profile advertisement during last month's Super Bowl.
The bureau also mailed advance letters last week to alert households about the census and will send reminder postcards later this week. Those efforts could result in a cost savings of more than $500 million, the agency said.
The census is conducted every 10 years to ensure that Congress is reapportioned in a way that accurately reflects the U.S. population. It is also used determine how more than $400 billion in federal funds are distributed.
The 2010 form, which consists of 10 questions, should take only 10 minutes to complete, the bureau said. In addition to asking how many people live at a particular residence and whether or not they own or rents the home, the form has questions regarding age, sex, race.
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