Undercounting children under age 5 for the 2020 Census could have dire consequences for their public services, health and education, this year’s Kids Count Data Book warns.
In 2010, the Census missed one million children under age 5 — the worst undercounting since 1950. Such undercounting, which has happened since 1980, has only gotten worse, said Florencia Gutierrez, senior research associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
“If they’re not counted, the government doesn’t know they exist,” Gutierrez said. “Their needs are invisible.” This results in overcrowded classrooms and more kids without health insurance, she said.
The Kids Count Data Book is an annual report by the foundation, which promotes research and programs focused on improving the lives of children facing additional obstacles for education, health and jobs. The report compiles child welfare statistics in four domains: economic well being, education, health, and family and community.
If parents don’t fill out the Census or leave out young children, their needs are not represented. They miss out on getting important resources that could improve opportunities for their families, their communities and their kids.
Some factions of the population have historically been hard to reach. Those include households where its members are constantly moving, where people have less education and are worried about what the government will do with the Census data. Some families don’t realize they have to fill out information for their children.
If missed in the count, it is immigrant children, children of color and children from immigrant families who have the most to lose if programs vital to them face funding cuts.
With these children’s well-being at stake, the report is asking that government at all levels make the problem of undercounting a priority and put money into outreach and education efforts that will target those groups that have been historically missed.
“Our hope is that child advocates will beat the drum on child undercounting and continue to elevate the issue into 2020,” Gutierrez said.
Overall trends positive
Overall trends in child welfare have been positive, the report says. The teen birth rate has shrunk nationwide 67 percent from 1990 to 2016, with more teens taking advantage of birth control.
In addition, a strong economy has helped families. Since five years ago, 1.6 fewer children are living in poverty, more parents are employed and fewer families are disproportionately burdened with housing costs.
Still, Gutierrez said, there is progress to be made. One in five children is still living in poverty. Nationwide proficiency in math for eighth graders has stagnated. About two-thirds of eight graders were not proficient in math in 2017, a number that has not significantly shifted since 2009.
“[There’s] a lot of work that needs to be done and investment that needs to be made to ensure kids get the resources they need,” she said. “One way to make that possible is ensuring that we have the best count possible in 2020.”