One Million Missing: Undercount of Young Kids in 2020 Census Threatens Gains

Posted June 27, 2018, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Children younger than age 5 are at risk of being undercounted in the 2020 Census.

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion today warned pol­i­cy­mak­ers and child advo­cates of trou­bling con­se­quences for the nation’s kids with the like­ly under­count of about 1 mil­lion chil­dren under age 5 in the 2020 cen­sus, as the Foun­da­tion released the 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, its annu­al look at child well-being in the Unit­ed States.

In this year’s Data Book, the Foun­da­tion not­ed that about 4.5 mil­lion young chil­dren live in neigh­bor­hoods where there’s a high risk of miss­ing kids in the count. An under­count of young chil­dren in the upcom­ing decen­ni­al cen­sus would short-change child well-being over the next decade by putting at risk hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars of fed­er­al fund­ing for pro­grams that are crit­i­cal to fam­i­ly sta­bil­i­ty and opportunity.

Down­load or order the Data Book

If we don’t count chil­dren, we ren­der their needs invis­i­ble and their futures uncer­tain,” said 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.”

Rough­ly 300 fed­er­al pro­grams use cen­sus-derived data to allo­cate more than $800 bil­lion a year. How­ev­er, cen­sus out­reach efforts face daunt­ing chal­lenges: a lack of lead­er­ship, the first-ever dig­i­tal sur­vey and the poten­tial of sup­pressed par­tic­i­pa­tion due to a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion. The under­count of young chil­dren has wors­ened with every cen­sus since 1980. The 2010 sur­vey had the worst under­count since 1950, with near­ly 5% of chil­dren under age 5 — about 1 mil­lion kids — not counted.

If missed in the nation­al count, chil­dren of col­or, low-income chil­dren and chil­dren in immi­grant fam­i­lies stand to suf­fer the most if vital pro­grams face reduc­tions in fund­ing. Research shows that by 2020 the major­i­ty of chil­dren in the Unit­ed States will be chil­dren of color.

We will count on chil­dren of all races and eth­nic­i­ties to build America’s future, so the coun­try must count all chil­dren in this upcom­ing cen­sus, so we can direct fund­ing to meet their needs,” said McCarthy. 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. But it’s up to pol­i­cy­mak­ers, com­mu­ni­ties and the nation to make sure that every kid is count­ed and matters.”

Nation­al Trends in Child Well-Being

The Data Book draws from numer­ous sources to focus on key trends in the post-reces­sion years. It mea­sures child well-being in four domains: eco­nom­ic well-being, edu­ca­tion, health and fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty. This year’s Data Book shows upward trends in many aspects of child well-being, par­tic­u­lar­ly in eco­nom­ic indi­ca­tors. How­ev­er, there are mixed results or stalled progress in the oth­er domains. Trou­bling dis­par­i­ties per­sist among chil­dren of col­or and those from low-income and immi­grant fam­i­lies. How­ev­er, the data show improve­ments since 2010 in many fac­tors that lead to children’s healthy development.

A stronger econ­o­my is pro­duc­ing bet­ter out­comes for par­ents and their kids. The Data Book shows that about 1.6 mil­lion few­er chil­dren are liv­ing in pover­ty than five years ago, more par­ents are employed and few­er fam­i­lies are spend­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of their income on hous­ing costs. Nonethe­less, in 2016, one in five chil­dren lived in pover­ty and 13% of kids lived in a high-pover­ty neigh­bor­hood. More­over, there has been no progress in the per­cent­age of teens who are nei­ther work­ing nor in school.

In child health, the nation saw a slight uptick in the per­cent­age of chil­dren with health insur­ance, a result of the com­bi­na­tion of key pro­vi­sions and expan­sions for pub­lic health pro­grams, but lit­tle else changed sig­nif­i­cant­ly. The nation saw the teen birth rate drop between 2010 and 2016 to its low­est lev­el ever.

The nation’s grad­u­a­tion rate is at an all-time high with 84% of high school stu­dents grad­u­at­ing on time. There has been slight progress in the per­cent­age of fourth-graders read­ing at or above grade lev­el, but the per­cent­age of eighth-graders pro­fi­cient in math and the per­cent­age of 3- and 4‑year-olds enrolled in school has remained stagnant.

State Rank­ings in the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book

Five of the top 10 states for over­all child well-being are in the North­east, with New Hamp­shire first and Mass­a­chu­setts second.

  • New Jer­sey ranked third. Although this year’s rank­ings and last year’s are not direct­ly com­pa­ra­ble because of changes in method­ol­o­gy, and although changes in method­ol­o­gy and data avail­abil­i­ty have occurred reg­u­lar­ly across the 29 years of the Data Book project, New Jer­sey had nev­er ranked high­er than fourth.
  • Min­neso­ta (4), Iowa (5), Utah (6), Con­necti­cut (7), Ver­mont (8), Nebras­ka (9) and Vir­ginia (10) round out the top 10.
  • Mis­sis­sip­pi saw slight improve­ments in almost every indi­ca­tor. It ranks 48th, its high­est rank­ing in more than a quar­ter cen­tu­ry (1991).
  • The five states with the low­est over­all child well-being rank­ings are Alas­ka (46), Neva­da (47), Mis­sis­sip­pi (48), Louisiana (49) and New Mex­i­co (50).

Invest­ing in an Accu­rate Count to Yield a Pos­i­tive Future for Kids

Lau­ra Speer, asso­ciate direc­tor for pol­i­cy reform and advo­ca­cy at the Casey Foun­da­tion, said reli­able data, par­tic­u­lar­ly cen­sus data, are crit­i­cal to inform­ing deci­sions that improve the lives of America’s chil­dren. An inac­cu­rate cen­sus threat­ens to under­mine essen­tial resources for com­mu­ni­ties and erode many of the advance­ments made in recent years for our chil­dren — par­tic­u­lar­ly chil­dren of col­or — for years to come,” Speer said.

The Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion offered the fol­low­ing rec­om­men­da­tions to achieve a more accu­rate census:

  • Max­i­mize the Cen­sus Bureau’s capac­i­ty: Fed­er­al leg­is­la­tors need to ful­ly fund the cen­sus out­reach effort, and the admin­is­tra­tion needs to appoint a qual­i­fied and per­ma­nent direc­tor to lead the agency to pro­vide sup­port for a more accu­rate cen­sus than in 2010.
  • Fund state and local out­reach: State and local gov­ern­ments and com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions need to invest in edu­ca­tion­al out­reach around the cen­sus to ensure that the most vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties are counted.
  • Expand the pool of trust­ed mes­sen­gers: Broad­en the cir­cle of peo­ple (from child care providers to mem­bers of the cler­gy) and orga­ni­za­tions (from pub­lic schools to libraries) who can pro­vide out­reach in their com­mu­ni­ties to reach hard-to-count house­holds and encour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion among peo­ple most like­ly to be missed.
  • Address the dig­i­tal divide: Pro­vide online access for all fam­i­lies to par­tic­i­pate in the cen­sus, either in local libraries or schools.
  • Address pri­va­cy and con­fi­den­tial­i­ty con­cerns: Giv­en the grow­ing dis­trust and fear of online data breach­es, it is crit­i­cal that gov­ern­ment offi­cials ensure the pro­tec­tion of respon­dents’ data.

The Casey Foun­da­tion asserts that this will require a con­cert­ed effort by the fed­er­al exec­u­tive branch, Con­gress, state and local offi­cials, advo­cates, busi­ness­es, ser­vice providers, com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers and philanthropy.

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