South Carolina often finds itself near the bottom in lists ranking states for positive attributes, but score one for the Palmetto State when it comes to Census participation.

With two days left to mail back U.S. Census forms, South Carolina residents already have exceeded the percentage of forms mailed back during the 2000 Census. South Carolina and North Carolina were the first states to exceed their previous Census participation rates, the U.S. Census Bureau said.

The percentage of people mailing back the forms is important because the next step in the Census is sending workers to visit homes that didn't respond, at great expense to taxpayers. Also, higher participation in the Census can help communities get a larger share of the many types of federal funding that are based upon population.

According to the Census Bureau, if every household mailed back the Census form, that would save taxpayers $1.5 billion. In 2000, the nation reversed a three-decade decline in mail response rates and saved $305 million, the bureau said.

South Carolina had a 65 percent participation rate in 2000, well below the national average of 72 percent, and public officials agree that South Carolina communities lost substantial federal funding during the past decade as a result.

South Carolina's participation rate hit 68 percent this week, which was just ahead of the national average but behind 21 other states.

Lancaster County led the state, with a 74 percent mail-back rate, while Dorchester County was the local leader, at 70 percent.

In the 2000 Census, fewer than half the households in several South Carolina counties mailed back their forms. This time, no county has a rate below 60 percent, and there's still time to get those forms in the mail.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or dslade@postandcourier.com.