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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