Data from the 2020 Census will be used to determine federal funding for essential programs and services for young children and families. It is critical that everyone gets counted, so communities get their fair share. That’s why advocates and providers are working to get the word out about the importance of counting everyone in the upcoming census — especially young children.
Every 10 years, the Census Bureau conducts a count of the people living in the United States, mandated by our Constitution. This count is used to determine congressional representation, as well as federal funding to states and municipalities — for the next 10 years.
This is particularly important for counting children, whose young lives will be shaped by the resources they do, or don’t, receive. A newborn or toddler counted in the 2020 Census will be in or completing elementary school during the next census in 2030. Yet, young children are one of the hardest populations to count. The 2020 Census is at risk of undercounting children under age 5 by 2 million children.
There are many reasons children don’t get counted. Parents of young children often don’t realize they should count all children living with them. And many households may be “complex,” meaning there are multiple generations living in the same home, or there are relatives living temporarily in the home. Families without stable, permanent housing may be particularly hard to count, due to the transient nature of their living situation. Children living in poverty, or in homes where parents have limited English-language skills, are also more likely to be missed.
Often these parents complete the census, but simply do not count all the children living in the household.
We know how important it will be to count every young child in the 2020 Census, since these numbers will be used to determine how and where billions of dollars are spent for the next 10 years. When kids aren’t counted, communities don’t get their fair share of funding for critical programs that support children, including food assistance, Head Start, childcare, housing support, public schools, early intervention services, and children’s health insurance. For Maine, every child missed in the census will cost our state $15,000-$20,000 of federal funds over a decade.
Population data like that collected in the census is also the basis for important local funding decisions affecting children and families — like where to place a new school or health clinic.
So, what can we do to ensure a complete count of young children in the 2020 Census? We can start by getting this message out to families:
Young children should be counted if they live and sleep in a home most of the time. A newborn should be counted if he or she was born on or before April 1, 2020. If you interact with parents and families in your work, you can provide additional information to them, encourage them to complete the census, and to count everyone living in the home when they do.
You can also communicate that responses to the census are confidential and protected by law, and cannot be shared with other individuals, like a landlord, law enforcement or immigration agency. We want to make sure parents feel informed and safe, so they can confidently fill out the census and help ensure a complete count.
The results of the 2020 Census will determine funding allocations for programs and services that are vital to the healthy development of young children, and will shape their lives for the next 10 years.
Knowing this, we cannot allow an undercount of young children in the 2020 Census. Whether it’s children living in complex households, hard-to-count or immigrant communities, it is critical that we all do our part to make sure they get counted, so they have the resources to thrive now, and in the future. That is a benefit to Maine children, and to our entire state.
John Bancroft is a Maine Children’s Alliance volunteer and retired pediatrician. Deb Hagler is president-elect of the board of the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.