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Charleston has been singled out for praise by the U.S. Census Bureau for having the largest percentage-point increase in the nation of people mailing back their Census forms, in cities with at least 50,000 residents.

Charleston went from 64 percent of residents mailing back their forms in 2000 to 73 percent this year.

The response rate is important because it helps determine federal funding for the area, and mailing the forms back saves tax dollars that would be spent sending Census workers to homes that did not respond. The state is pushing participation because a large enough population increase also could give South Carolina another congressional seat.

At 73 percent, Charleston's mail-back rate was just above the national average, but the city's improvement from the 2000 Census also helped make South Carolina one of the two most improved states in the nation, along with North Carolina.

"At the state level, we made Charleston one of our target areas with focused marketing and outreach and great partnerships with federal and local officials," said Michael Sponhour, director of public affairs for the S.C. Budget and Control Board.

To encourage people to mail back Census forms, state and local officials did everything from putting up signs and billboards, as was done on Isle of Palms, to going door-to-door to encourage college students to make sure they are counted, as Charleston

Mayor Joe Riley did earlier this month.

"We've been working very hard for the last year or so," Riley said. "We have fabulous neighborhood councils, and we've been working through them, and our Complete Count committee."

Census forms are not sent to post office boxes, so people without home mail delivery -- common on the barrier islands -- had an extra challenge. Folly Beach, for example, had a 44 percent mail-back rate, which was the worst in Charleston County but far better than the 35 percent achieved in 2000.

For those who didn't mail a Census form, government workers will be visiting homes through July to count the population and get some basic demographic information, such as the sex and race of occupants.

Nationally, just over 72 percent of households mailed back their Census forms, the same rate as in 2000.

In South Carolina, the mail-back rate jumped from 65 percent to 73 percent.

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said in a prepared announcement that matching the 2000 mail-back rate was "a significant achievement" considering the nation's increasingly diverse population, a difficult economy, and growing distrust in government.