October 23, 2018

Counting All Kids in 2020: 4.5 Million Kids Live in Hard-to-Count Census Tracts

Children under the age of 5 run the greatest risk of being undercounted in the 2020 Census. Within this group, kids living in low-income families, kids living in immigrant families, and kids of color are most likely to be missed.

A child's undercount risk also varies by location. To identify this risk, researchers review response rates from a prior census. Census-tracts with the poorest 2010 mail return rates — anything in the bottom 20% — are labeled “hard-to-count.”

Nationwide, 23% of all children — 4.5 million kids total — live in hard-to-count census tracts, and 40 states and the District of Columbia have a double-digit percentage of young children living in hard-to-count areas. New Mexico leads this list, with 52% of children statewide living in hard-to-count tracts. But other states, such as Alaska (47%), New York, (43%) and Hawaii (39%), also run a significant risk of having their kids uncounted.

Children in Iowa and Idaho are least likely to live in a hard-to-count census tract — just 3% do. Minnesota (4%) and Maine (5%) also have relatively small proportions of kids living in hard-to-count tracts.

But why does counting children matter? The short answer is that overlooking kids has major financial consequences for some critical federal programs.

The long answer is that about 300 federal programs rely on census data for funding decisions. Some of these programs, like Head Start and Medicaid, provide vital support to young children and their families — particularly young children from low-income families. If the 2020 Census misses millions of kids nationwide, these programs are at risk of being underfunded by millions or even billions of dollars.

“We must make accurately counting young children a priority between now and 2020,” says Patrick McCarthy, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s President and CEO. “As a country, we know how important it is to give children a great start in life. That can only happen if we have the right data to tell us where they are, what they need and how to ensure they have the bright future they deserve.”

In the foreword of the Casey Foundation’s 2018 KID COUNT® Data Book, McCarthy outlines how five ways that leaders can help every kid get counted. These are:

  • maximizing the capacity of the Census Bureau to count them;
  • fully funding state and local outreach campaigns focused on their parents;
  • expanding the pool of trusted messengers who can reach hard-to-count families
  • making internet access available to families least likely to have it at home; and
  • addressing privacy and confidentiality concerns

Accomplishing these tasks will require an all-hands-on-deck effort,” says McCarthy. “The federal executive and legislative branches, state and local officials, advocates, businesses, service providers, community leaders and local philanthropy all have important roles to play.”