public-policy article

Counting Young Children in the 2020 Census: What You Can Do to Educate Your Network

November 18, 2019

By Zachary Tashman

On Thursday, November 7th, the National Assembly hosted a Washington Policy Council to discuss strategies for ensuring a fair and accurate count in the 2020 Census, particularly among young children. Deborah Stein, Network Director at Partnership for America’s Children, presented findings from the CountallKids campaign outlining  why so many young children are not counted during the Decennial Census, as well as best practices for tackling this problem.

The Undercount of Young Children 

Young children are routinely undercounted in the Decennial Census. In 2010, enumerators missed more than 10 percent of children age four or younger, or 2.2 million in total. This was the highest miscount of any age group. This miscount was disproportionately among Black and Hispanic children and children who lived in large cities. Factors that put kids at risk of being undercounted include living in complex households, such as ones headed by grandparents, and living in linguistically isolated households.There is also an atmosphere of mistrust attributed to family separation policies and the proposed inclusion of a citizenship question on the form that was blocked earlier this year. 

When families do not include their young children on their census form, it impacts programs and services that allow children and all members of our communities to thrive. The annual allocation of $800 billion from 55 federally funded programs is determined through data collected from the Decennial census. When kids are not counted accurately, communities receive fewer federal funds for essential programs for a decade following the census, oftentimes spanning an entire childhood. Some of these programs include: Head Start, school lunches, Medicaid, and childcare. To ensure the well-being of children and families in our communities, it is essential that the sector advocate for a fair and accurate count, as well as educate our networks and communities about how they can get involved, who to count on their own forms, and alternative methods of answering the census.

Talk to Your Networks 

The Partnership for America’s Children conducted research among 800 families with children earning less than $50,000 to find out why families left children off their census forms and what messaging could encourage higher rates of child inclusion. The survey found that 10 percent of participants in their survey would not add children under 5 to their census form, and 8 percent were uncertain whether or not to do so. When asked why they would leave young children off the Census forms, the most common reason was uncertainty and a lack of understanding of why the government must count young children. 

The Partnership for America’s Children found five targeted messages that increased the likelihood of families counting their young children. In your communications to direct service providers, individuals, or others in your network, be sure to highlight the following: 

  • Time. When participants were told “you can fill out the Census on your schedule and that it only takes about 10 minutes to complete,” 76 percent of respondents said they were more likely to add young children to their form. 53 percent of respondents said it would make them much more likely to count young children.. 
  • Your Responses are Private. Under federal law, personal data, such as names and addresses, gathered in the census cannot be shared.Highlighting this privacy guarantee made a majority of respondents  more likely to fill out the form (62 percent more likely, 32 percent said they were much more likely). 
  • The Census Impacts Federal Funding in Your Community.  When respondents were told that leaving young children off the form results in a decrease in federal funding for programs within the community, the survey found that 82 percent were more likely to fill out the form in total, and 62 percent were much more likely to fill out the form. 
    • Note the Length of Impact. When respondents were told a decrease in funding would impact children for the majority of their childhood, they were more likely to include young children on the form. 
  • Census Data will Help Local Government Plan for the Future.  Respondents were more likely to include children when they heard that the census determines where $800 billion a year in federal funding goes, including medical services,Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), childcare, public schools, public transit, and low-income housing.

It is helpful for these messages to the community to come from trusted members from within those communities.   

Federal Advocacy 

In June, the House passed an appropriations bill that would allocate $7.5 billion to the Census Bureau for FY2020. In October, the Senate passed its own appropriations bill that would provide $6.7 billion to the Census Bureau. A Continuing Resolution (CR) passed at the end of September allows the Census Bureau to spend as much as necessary to prepare for the 2020 Census (until it expires on Nov. 21st). The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) determines what “as much as necessary” entails. They have limited current spending to the $5.3 billion allocated in the President’s budget. 

The National Assembly strongly urges Congress to include a full-year, direct appropriation in the second CR by November 21st, at a funding level no less than $7.284 billion for Periodic Censuses and Programs, which should include new funding of at least $6.696 billion for the 2020 Census, and possibly more, given the unprecedented challenges and threats facing the nation’s largest peacetime activity. These funds should not be subject to apportionment by OMB and should be in addition to $1.02 billion in unspent funds for the 2020 Census carried over from FY 2019.

Take Action

The National Assembly encourages all members of our network to engage in census advocacy, as it likely impacts your communities and the programs needed to help the people you serve thrive. Your organization can do this by:

Complete Count Committees 

Complete Count Committees are a group of individuals, nonprofits, foundations, and other organizations that work together to build awareness and enthusiasm to participate in the Census, relying in part on their knowledge of the local community and in part on their ability to engage trusted voices. Please engage your networks by asking if they are part of these committees or if they would be interested in joining. 

Circulate Advocacy Materials and Host Community Events

Beyond joining these communities, members can use Count All Kids materials for outreach to families starting in January as well as hosting community events explaining how the Census brings federal funds to their community and school districts. 2020 will be the first decennial Census with the option of filling out the form online, so providing internet access to members of your community from March-July 2020 is also helpful. 

To learn more, join the Coalition for Human Needs for a webinar December 4th at 2pm ET to learn what service providers need to know about the 2020 Census. Learn from leaders of the national Count All Kids Campaign and the Census Counts Campaign as well as a local service provider about:

  • What’s at stake in the 2020 Census;
  • What service providers need to do between now and the Census;
  • Where to get free/easy-to-use resources that can be used to achieve our goals; and
  • Which strategies works and what missteps to avoid.