2020 Census: Each Decade, We Have a Chance to Get it Right and #CountAllKids

Posted October 20, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Mom and her two young children, who are at risk of not being counted in the 2020 Census.

The Unit­ed States gets only one chance each decade to count its pop­u­la­tion, and the next oppor­tu­ni­ty — the 2020 Cen­sus — is fast approaching.

Read About the Risks to an Accu­rate Cen­sus in the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book

Yet, the upcom­ing impend­ing cen­sus is mired in chal­lenges that could short­change the offi­cial pop­u­la­tion count by more than 2 mil­lion chil­dren younger than age 5, accord­ing to the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion’s 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book.

How do we know that young chil­dren are missed at high­er rates than their old­er peers? Because this group has been under­count­ed since 1980. Why? Researchers aren’t cer­tain, but they have some ideas:

  • Some kids aren’t count­ed because their entire fam­i­ly is missed due to high mobil­i­ty, home­less­ness, lan­guage bar­ri­ers or the com­plex­i­ty of mul­ti­fam­i­ly households.
  • Some kids live in places that are tra­di­tion­al­ly hard­er to count, such as neigh­bor­hoods with a lot of renters and multi­u­nit buildings.
  • Some house­hold mem­bers are record­ed as part of the cen­sus, but the youngest chil­dren are still missed due to sur­vey lim­i­ta­tions, the pres­ence of mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions in a house­hold or a lack of under­stand­ing that young kids should be counted.

Rough­ly 300 fed­er­al pro­grams use cen­sus-derived data to allo­cate more than $800 bil­lion in fund­ing annu­al­ly, includ­ing near­ly $160 bil­lion just on pro­grams for chil­dren. Under­count­ing kids would put these fed­er­al dol­lars at risk, lead­ing to under­fund­ed pro­grams that are crit­i­cal for fam­i­ly sta­bil­i­ty and opportunity.

If we don’t count chil­dren, we ren­der their needs invis­i­ble and their futures uncer­tain,” says Casey Foun­da­tion Pres­i­dent and CEO Patrick McCarthy. A major cen­sus under­count will result in over­crowd­ed class­rooms, shut­tered Head Start pro­grams, under­staffed hos­pi­tal emer­gency rooms and more kids with­out health care.”

The nation’s next cen­sus, slat­ed for April 1, 2020, faces a range of chal­lenges — from a lack of lead­er­ship to an inau­gur­al dig­i­tal sur­vey to the poten­tial of sup­pressed par­tic­i­pa­tion due to a new cit­i­zen­ship question.

Despite these chal­lenges: It’s not too late to ensure we con­duct a cen­sus that leads to prop­er fund­ing, rep­re­sen­ta­tion and pro­grams for the con­tin­ued healthy devel­op­ment of kids,” says McCarthy. But it’s up to pol­i­cy­mak­ers, com­mu­ni­ties and the nation to make sure that every kid is count­ed and matters.”

What can lead­ers do to count all kids?

  • Max­i­mize the capac­i­ty of the Cen­sus Bureau to count them.
  • Ful­ly fund state and local out­reach cam­paigns focused on their parents.
  • Expand the pool of trust­ed mes­sen­gers who can reach hard-to-count families.
  • Make inter­net access avail­able to fam­i­lies least like­ly to have it at home.
  • Address pri­va­cy and con­fi­den­tial­ly con­cerns, par­tic­u­lar­ly for those who are with­out doc­u­men­ta­tion but are enti­tled to be counted.

Read the fore­word of Casey’s KIDS COUNT Data Book, released in June 2018, to learn more about why a cen­sus under­count could be detri­men­tal to chil­dren and families.

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