Preparing for the 2020 Census: Making Sure Young Children are Counted

May 17, 2019

Kids count in Virginia, and it’s important that they be counted in the 2020 Census, too. Communities care deeply about their youngest members, but in the last Census, very young children were the age group most likely to be missed. In preparation for the 2020 Census, efforts are underway to improve this situation, and there are many ways that local governments can help ensure that their smallest residents are counted.

Dr. William O’Hare, President, O’Hare Data and Demographics Services, and Margaret Nimmo Holland, Executive Director, Voices for Virginia’s Children, presented information on the undercounting of young children to the Virginia Complete Count Commission at its April 30 meeting. (Both Dr. O’Hare and Ms. Holland serve on the Commission.) Dr. O’Hare explained that children aged four and younger were the most undercounted age group in the 2010 Census, followed by children aged five to nine. Since the 1980 Census, the net undercounting of children four and younger relative to adults 18 and older has worsened. Deborah Stein with the Partnership for America’s Children pointed out on a recent NACo webinar that the undercounting was more significant in the largest counties.

Why are young children undercounted?
While adults tend to be missed in the Census because they do not return the Census questionnaire, young children are typically missed because they are left off the questionnaire, even if other members of the household are counted. Dr. O’Hare, Ms. Holland, and Ms. Stein all point to confusion as a major factor in this situation, suggesting that Census respondents may be unsure whether young children are expected to be listed as members of the household, especially in complex households (for example, multi-generational or multi-family households). Recent focus groups held by the Partnership for America’s Children suggested that the connection between the decennial Census and major federal funding streams may not be well understood. In addition, young children tend to live in households that are considered “hard-to-count” in general – for example, low-income households, renter-occupied households, or households headed by someone between 18 and 29 years old. Families with young children also may be fearful that Census information might be misused.

How can local governments help improve the count of young children in the 2020 Census?
Experts suggest working with trusted messengers in the community to spread the word about the importance of counting young children. Schools, child care centers, libraries, businesses, the faith community, and medical providers are all potential allies in raising public awareness. If your locality has established a Complete Count Committee, you might consider including a representative with expertise in children’s issues. Local governments can educate the public on the importance of the decennial Census in establishing political representation and allocating federal funds. Ms. Stein reports that the Count All Kids initiative will be releasing a scoring method to identify areas where young children may be missed in the upcoming Census, which can be used to target messaging about the importance of counting young children. Since the 2020 Census will include an online component for the first time, providing internet access (for example, at local libraries) can assist young families who may not have access at home.

VACo is working with Voices for Virginia’s Children on this important issue and will continue to share information as the 2020 Census approaches.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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