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DECATUR - The head of the U.S. Census Bureau declared the decennial undertaking half over Wednesday, citing a better-than-expected response to mailings in the country's most-populous states and stressing that door-to-door surveying is about to begin in earnest.

Speaking at a news conference in Washington, D.C., Census Director Robert Groves said the American public should be congratulated for its civic participation, and many states and major cities met or exceeded the level of response received in 2000. Nationwide, 72 percent of recipients returned their Census forms.

Macon County had a 78 percent response rate, 1 percentage point higher than in 2000.

"When I took this job, I really expected that any achievement close to the 2000 rate was beyond reach," Groves said. "Folks at the Census Bureau are dancing down the hallways."

Illinois narrowly missed getting into the top five states for responses, with nearby Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin claiming the highest rates. Illinois had a 78 percent response rate, a percentage point greater than in 2000, and Wisconsin had the highest rate in the country at 81 percent.

Groves said the good numbers came from efforts to blanket areas that underperformed in 2000, good advertising and community partnership campaigns and short-form mailings, which Groves said made responding less of a hassle.

Groves identified several trends he said seem to affect the success of mailings. He said recipients were less likely to return forms in areas with lower education, high rates of abandoned homes and those that are predominately rental properties. Race and ethnicity had much less noticeable effects, he said.

"We have assignments ready for 600,000 people who are ready to hit the streets Saturday," Groves said. "The Census is not over. We will collect information on everyone before we're through."

Mark Smith, a senior planner for the city of Decatur who is working closely with local Census workers, said there's still a lot more work to do.

"This process of enumeration, going to door to door, is going to be months long," he said. "The efforts are basically going through neighborhood groups now."

Smith said it's important to get local people involved, since they are known and trusted in the community and far more likely to be able to get responses.

"We want them to have some credibility with regard to the person they're talking to," Smith said. "You and I aren't going to make it in most areas in the city, going up and saying, 'Hey, here's a brochure.' They'll say 'Huh? Get out of here.' "

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