Nationwide, 4.5 Million Kids Live in Hard-to-Count Census Tracts

Posted October 23, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Updates countingallkidsin2020 2018

Chil­dren under the age of 5 run the great­est risk of being under­count­ed in the 2020 Cen­sus. With­in this group, kids liv­ing in low-income fam­i­lies, kids liv­ing in immi­grant fam­i­lies, and kids of col­or are most like­ly to be missed.

A child’s under­count risk also varies by loca­tion. To iden­ti­fy this risk, researchers review response rates from a pri­or cen­sus. Cen­sus-tracts with the poor­est 2010 mail return rates — any­thing in the bot­tom 20% — are labeled hard-to-count.”

Nation­wide, 23% of all chil­dren — 4.5 mil­lion kids total — live in hard-to-count cen­sus tracts, and 40 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia have a dou­ble-dig­it per­cent­age of young chil­dren liv­ing in hard-to-count areas. New Mex­i­co leads this list, with 52% of chil­dren statewide liv­ing in hard-to-count tracts. But oth­er states, such as Alas­ka (47%), New York, (43%) and Hawaii (39%), also run a sig­nif­i­cant risk of hav­ing their kids uncounted.

Chil­dren in Iowa and Ida­ho are least like­ly to live in a hard-to-count cen­sus tract — just 3% do. Min­neso­ta (4%) and Maine (5%) also have rel­a­tive­ly small pro­por­tions of kids liv­ing in hard-to-count tracts.

But why does count­ing chil­dren mat­ter? The short answer is that over­look­ing kids has major finan­cial con­se­quences for some crit­i­cal fed­er­al programs.

The long answer is that about 300 fed­er­al pro­grams rely on cen­sus data for fund­ing deci­sions. Some of these pro­grams, like Head Start and Med­ic­aid, pro­vide vital sup­port to young chil­dren and their fam­i­lies — par­tic­u­lar­ly young chil­dren from low-income fam­i­lies. If the 2020 Cen­sus miss­es mil­lions of kids nation­wide, these pro­grams are at risk of being under­fund­ed by mil­lions or even bil­lions of dollars.

We must make accu­rate­ly count­ing young chil­dren a pri­or­i­ty between now and 2020,” says Patrick McCarthy, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Pres­i­dent and CEO. As a coun­try, we know how impor­tant it is to give chil­dren a great start in life. That can only hap­pen if we have the right data to tell us where they are, what they need and how to ensure they have the bright future they deserve.”

In the fore­word of the Casey Foundation’s 2018 KID COUNT® Data Book, McCarthy out­lines how five ways that lead­ers can help every kid get count­ed. These are:

  • max­i­miz­ing the capac­i­ty of the Cen­sus Bureau to count them;
  • ful­ly fund­ing state and local out­reach cam­paigns focused on their parents;
  • expand­ing the pool of trust­ed mes­sen­gers who can reach hard-to-count families
  • mak­ing inter­net access avail­able to fam­i­lies least like­ly to have it at home; and
  • address­ing pri­va­cy and con­fi­den­tial­i­ty concerns

Accom­plish­ing these tasks will require an all-hands-on-deck effort,” says McCarthy. The fed­er­al exec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branch­es, state and local offi­cials, advo­cates, busi­ness­es, ser­vice providers, com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers and local phil­an­thropy all have impor­tant roles to play.”

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