Census 2020: New Research Identifies Factors Linked to Undercounting Kids

Posted April 12, 2019, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

U.S. census counts have repeatedly excluded a large number of children under the age of 5 — and experts now have a better understanding as to why.

U.S. census counts have repeatedly excluded a large number of children under the age of 5 — and experts now have a better understanding as to why. This new information — the result of research conducted by Population Reference Bureau and O’Hare Data and Demographic Services — arrives just in time to help ensure an accurate count for the 2020 census.

The Casey Foundation joined a collaborative of funders in supporting the study, which used 2010 census data to examine undercount rates for kids ages 0 to 4. Researchers focused on the nation’s largest counties, which are likely to offer reliable estimates on how many young children the census missed.

The study found that a higher net undercount — the number of undercounted minus those who were overcounted — is most closely associated with communities that have a higher percentage of:

  • people of color;
  • households that are linguistically isolated;
  • young children living with grandparent householders; and
  • young children living with nonrelatives or in group quarters.

In total, the 261 counties under review were home to 73% of the total net undercount — a statistic that translates to nearly 600,000 uncounted kids between the ages of 0 to 4.

“This analysis shows that many young children are missed — and for different factors than the population as a whole,” says Florencia Gutierrez, a senior policy associate at the Casey Foundation. “We must educate householders to include all children living in their household on census forms, whether the children are theirs or not.”

Researchers have long believed that young children are often missed in the census because their living arrangements are complex and adults aren’t always sure whether to include the children living with them on census forms. It can also be harder to count children living in communities with many multi-unit buildings.

By focusing on racial and ethnic diversity and different forms of living arrangements, advocates can better target geographic areas and population subgroups to ensure the next census reaches an accurate count. Doing so will yield a more complete representation of the nation’s population — and include children whose well-being depends on being counted.

Read more recommendations for a complete 2020 census count

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