WASHINGTON — The Census Bureau kicked off its $300 million campaign Monday to prod, coax and cajole the nation's more than 300 million residents to fill out their once-a-decade census forms.
The bureau will mail out the 10-question forms to about 120 million households in March.
Census director Robert Groves started the nationwide campaign by unveiling a 46-foot trailer called "Mail It Back" in New York City. In all, 13 vehicles will attend about 800 events around the country, from small community happenings to the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four.
St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa will host one of the regional buses, with interactive displays, from Jan. 18 to 23.
"The whole purpose is to reach out to people at local events," Groves said.
Census forms will arrive from March 15 to 17. Residents who don't return their forms by April 1 can expect a visit from a census taker by early May.
In 2000, about 67 percent of households mailed back their forms, ending a three-decade decline in the response rate.
The Constitution requires the head count every 10 years to draw congressional districts and to dole out Electoral College votes to the states. Congress uses the count to distribute more than $400 billion each year in federal aid to state, local and tribal governments.
Though Florida's population has stagnated with the recession, growth since 2000 will probably result in a new congressional seat or two, spokesman Ed Davis said.
"Florida usually makes out pretty well every time the census comes around,'' he said.
Census information is used by government agencies and private companies alike, to locate pools of skilled workers, determine where schools and hospitals should be placed and to trace victims of natural disasters. In the Gulf Coast region, this year's census will provide the most accurate measure to date of how Hurricanes Katrina and Rita affected population trends.
"There's political power involved because of the Constitution," Groves said. "There's money involved as well."
The 10-question form is one of the shortest in the history of the census. Residents will be asked the number of people living in each household as well as their age, race and whether they own their home or rent. Other questions — on income, education levels and other characteristics — are addressed in the annual American Community Survey, which has been phased in over much of the past decade.
The census is expected to create about 5,000 jobs in the Tampa Bay area, running from March to June, including census-takers, supervisors and office staff. Pay for 40-hour weeks will usually range from $10 to $15 an hour.
Applicants should contact the bureau toll-free at 1-866-861-2010 or at www.2010census.gov (click on "Job seekers" at top right). They will then be routed to their local office for a written test of basic skills. Only applicants living within that local office's jurisdiction will be considered, Davis said.
"We would like to have five to seven applicants for every job,'' he said. Test scores will figure strongly in who gets hired and "speaking a foreign language is a plus.''
Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren contributed to this report.