US Census… Does it Matter? (Spoiler: Yes!)

Although we have just welcomed the New Year 2019, many of us already have an eye on 2020. That’s because 2020 marks the next time the decennial United States Census will occur. Our US Census is of critical importance for a number of reasons. To name a few: Legislative districts are drawn; the number of seats for the House of Representatives are determined; and federal funding is allocated at the state and local level.

2020Recently, I read an alarming note about the 2010 US Census: Nearly 1 million children younger than age 5 were not counted. While there is (sadly) a historical precedent of undercounting children of color as well as kids in low-income and immigrant families, this seems a staggeringly high figure, particularly when we consider that federal funding for children means money for programs such as Head Start, free school lunches, free/affordable child/day care, public health insurance and even housing. When these numbers are misrepresented, what we are really saying is that millions of dollars can potentially be lost despite how critical most, if not all, of these services are for young children.

I wondered, as I’m sure you do, how these children are not counted. My research indicates a number of possible reasons:

  • Contact: Families who are homeless, highly mobile or living with relatives are harder to reach
  • Response Rates: Families who are living in poverty or are headed by individuals without a high school degree are less likely to respond to a census
  • Immigration Reform: Immigrant families with undocumented members are fearful of deportation and do not respond, although recently US courts have ruled that including a question of citizenship is unlawful.
  • Ethnicity: In the 2010 census, the undercount rate for Latino children was 7.5% and for Black children was 6.3%. In contrast, the rate for children who are not Black or Latino was 2.7%.

So, what can we do?

In order to maximize the ability of the Census Bureau to count all of our children, the administration first needs to appoint a qualified individual to the position of Director, which has been vacant since May 2017. Advocates need to continue to work with state and local officials about the importance of the census and the need for adequate funding. Local and statewide child serving organizations need to be engaged to increase awareness of and participation in the census. “Trusted messengers” in each locale must be identified to get the message out of the importance of the census and why they need to participate. Although the 2020 census will be the first conducted online, paper forms will need to be available in rural and remote areas which do not have access to the internet.

Each of us must make the census a priority between now and 2020. Our children are our future. Let’s make sure that they are counted so that they can get the resources they so desperately need.


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