Can Formstack save the US Census $70 million?

Written by Noah Coffey on April 8, 2010

Posted in Formstack Updates

US 2010 Census

There has been quite a bit of discussion over the high cost of the 2010 US Census recently. With the cost ballooning to over $14 billion for a process that involves paper forms, we started thinking about obvious ways some of those costs could be reduced. Considering we are a company that specializes in online forms and data collection, we decided to start there.

First, let’s start off small. It isn’t realistic to believe the entire population of the United States will be able to submit their Census form via the Internet. However, there is some reliable data we can use to make a nice cost savings guesstimate. The IRS reports that in 2009, almost 95 million people e-filed their taxes. This means they either filed their taxes electronically themselves or were able to find a way to get them filed electronically via another means or service.

For fun, lets take the costs we know to mail out and return those printed census forms to those 95 million internet users. The USPS charges $0.335 per first-class letter sent via bulk mail. The US Census website reports it costs them $0.42 for each census form that is mailed back in their pre-paid envelopes. That all adds up to over $72 million to mail and return all those census forms.

At Formstack, our largest account package (Max plan) costs $159/month and lets you store up to 100,000 form submissions. If we divide out the number of submissions needed for 95 million people, we get 950 accounts. That equals out to approximately $151,000 in account costs.

So, lets take the total cost of $72 million minus the small cost of $151,000 to collect and return all that census data using Formstack, and you get well over $71 million in savings.

You might be saying to yourself, “Hey, that’s just the cost of sending the census forms! What about the cost of paper, printing, etc.?” We couldn’t find specific numbers on those costs, so we decided to just use the numbers we could find for mailing. If you wanted to figure out the cost of emailing all these people, we could use the prices posted on MailChimp‘s website for a rough estimate.

Their prices for pay-as-you-go are $0.005 per email. That means an email out to all 95 million internet users in this example would cost around $475,000. This still keeps our total savings above $70 million. Of course, MailChimp offers even lower unpublished bulk rates for high volume emails, so this figure would likely be much lower.

While we did use as much real data as possible with this blog post, there are obviously many areas that were left out for simplicity sake. This is by no means a scientific study and we’re not expecting a phone call from the Census Bureau. However, we do believe there are some significant savings to be had by integrating more modern data collection techniques into the census process… and just in case you’re listening, US Census Bureau, our number is 317-542-3125. 🙂