Children living in poverty. Children living in single mother households. Children living in their grandparents’ household. Black and Hispanic children. Children in immigrant families. These are just some of the groups of children that are at highest risk of being undercounted in the 2020 Census. According to the Census Bureau, the 2010 Census missed well over a million children, and most of those (almost a million) are children under the age of 5. Since the decennial census provides the basis for a decade or more of policymaking and funding decisions that affect children, undercounting over a million children can have long-lasting consequences.
Efforts to reduce child poverty require an accurate count of who poor children are and where they live. Decisions about funding Head Start require an accurate count of which children are Head-Start eligible and where they live. Funding for social safety net programs like SNAP (food stamps), the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program and Pell Grants all require knowing who needs support and where these children and their families live. Education funding for programs that benefit poor children (Title I) and children who are eligible for special education is also determined by the census counts.
Undercounting the most vulnerable children hurts the children who need support the most. And since poor children, children in single mother headed households, and children in immigrant families are disproportionately Black and Hispanic, undercounting these children intensifies existing stark racial and ethnic inequities. Recent efforts to halt the 2020 Census count early and to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count exacerbate the longstanding problem of undercounting.
At a time when COVID-19 has revealed longstanding economic and health inequities, and Black, Hispanic and immigrant families are bearing the brunt of a pandemic, counting all children is more important than ever. At a time when the U.S. population is more diverse and younger, counting all children is more important than ever. Failing to count all children is a failure to live up to our most basic responsibilities as humans: giving our children the conditions they need to grow and thrive.