Why Must All Children Be Counted?
An undercount of children in the Census has far reaching consequences for everyone, including cuts to federal programs that support families, overcrowded classrooms, understaffed hospital emergency rooms, less representation in congress, and difficulty meeting people’s transportation needs.
Programs essential to the development of young children rely on the data to appropriate funding to where it’s needed most. Early Childhood Education & Head Start, State Children’s Health Insurance Program, Housing Programs, Foster Care Services and many other programs all rely on the fairness and accuracy of the count.
Yet children — especially those under 5 — have the highest undercount of all age groups in the Census.
Why Are Young Children Undercounted?
Since the 1980 Census, the undercount of young children has only worsened.
In the 2010 Census, approximately 1.1 million children under 5 nationwide (a net undercount of 4.6%) were not counted.
The undercount was even more severe for children of color. 6.3% of black children and 7.5% of Hispanic children went uncounted. The undercount of black and Hispanic children account for 80% of the undercount of all children under 5 years old.
Many Children Live in Hard-to-Count Neighborhoods.
For New York State — which has the second highest percentage of children under 5 living in hard-to-count (HTC) Census tracts — that represents over half a million children under 5.
Almost half (42.8%) of children under 5 in NYS, live in hard-to-count Census tracts compared to just 36% of the entire state’s population.
In New York City, large portions of each borough’s population live in HTC communities.
Percent of Population
Living in HTC Neighborhoods
Some Children Are Living in complex Households.
Complex households means anything other than a nuclear family.
This can be children who are in living situations where they move between relatives and caregivers, are in foster care, living with grandparents, or are in some other type of living situation.
A recent study found 40% of all children under 5 nationwide lived in a household with complex living arrangements. The figures are higher for Black children (50%) and Hispanic children (55%). Young children in complex households are often left off Census responses because parents are the most likely to include their child on the Census form. All other respondents tend to be uncertain about including a young child as a household resident.
Young children in complex households are often left of the census form because parents are the most likely to include their child on the Census form, and other respondents may be uncertain about including a young child as a household resident. In fact, of the children missed in the 2010 Census – only 16% lived in a household that wasn’t included in the census. In other words, 84% of missed children lived in a household that did not count them on the census form.
Language barriers exist for many families.
New York City has one of the highest immigrant populations in the United States with 56.9% of children living in a home where both or one parents/caregivers were born outside of the United States. These can often be households where people speak in a language other than English.
49% of New Yorkers speak a language other than English, compared to 22% nationally.
Because information on the Census and the actually questionnaires are provided in a limited number of languages, English language limitations are factors in a household making an error or not completing the Census at all.
Communites lack knowledge about the Census.
General misinformation and lack of knowledge about what the Census is, who it is for, and how to complete a form is still prevalent.
In a Census Bureau study, only about 28% of respondents in households with young children reported being extremely familiar or very familiar with the Census.
This often leads to incomplete Census forms, errors, and other challenges that can lead to a child not being counted.
There are additional factors unique to the 2020 Census that could contribute to an even greater undercount of young children: The introduction of a digital Census, concerns with privacy, and the consequences of the citizenship question.
A Digital Census
The 2020 Census will be the first Census Where People Can Complete The Form Online.
While households can still receive a paper Census form, the Census Bureau has heavily invested in the digital form being the primary way most people will complete the Census.
Even in an age where digital technology and internet access has spread globally, vast portions of the population have limited access to broadband internet or access to a computer needed to complete the Census.
This “Digital Divide” does not only impact low-income households disproportionately but can also be seen across race and ethnicity.
To read more about the importance of a digital census in New York, see the Digital Equity Lab’s report.
The digital divide could make responding to the census more difficult.
According to the Census Bureau the percentage of households with broadband internet access varies throughout the country. 78.8% of White households have internet access. However, only 69.6% of Hispanic households and 63.5% of Black households have the same access.
This means that more than a third of Hispanic and nearly half of all Black households do not have the resources at home to complete their Census forms online.
This makes it particularly important for community organizations, libraries, and other community spaces to ensure they have the resources to help families complete the Census online.
Privacy Concerns with the Census
A digital census and increase use of technology, in general, augments an already existing public concern about privacy and confidentiality with the Census.
An electronic compilation of personal information increases the risk and fear of re-identification or misuse. Through U.S. history one can see a record of protests and advocacy for ensuring privacy remains of pivotal importance with the Census Bureau and Federal Government.
Title 13 of the US Code was created because of this concern and regulates the privacy information gathered in the Census. The law is the strongest privacy guarantee in the federal government and safeguards against misuse of Census data by ensuring:
- Census data can only be used for statistical purposes.
- Personal information cannot be used against respondents in court or by a government agency.
- Personal Census information cannot be disclosed for 72 years. This includes names, addresses, Social Security numbers and telephone numbers.
- Census Bureau staff who have access to personal information are sworn for life to protect confidentiality. Staff are subject to a $250,000 fine and/or up to 5 years in federal prison for wrongful disclosure of information.
Policymakers and advocates are working to ensure full compliance by the Administration, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Census Bureau with these critical protections.
Considering these concerns and protections, the Census remains an important part of our democracy and is critical to supporting children, families, and communities.
Consequences of Fear & Mistrust of Government
Fostering relationships built on trust, creating environments that offer safety and protection, and supporting communities that continue to live under threat helps us ensure all children are counted.
Fear and mistrust of government among people of color and other marginalized communities has a long history rooted in intergenerational and historical trauma. This has continued with recent actions taken by the Trump Administration that places these communities at risk of a more severe undercount in the 2020 Census.
In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Trump Administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the Census. Yet immigrants, children of immigrants, and their relatives continue to be threatened.
With ICE immigration raids and other attempts to intimidate marginalized communities, local officials, organizations, and community leaders must now face the long-term impact of this fear and mistrust. New York City, with its large immigrant population, is susceptible to this intimidation. While Census data is protected by privacy laws, these laws and promises of vigilance by advocacy groups can provide little assurance to immigrants, their families, and communities.
Therefore, outreach from trusted messengers — local organizations, places of worship, and community centers — is critical to reaching those threatened communities. By continuing to foster relationships built on trust, creating safe environments, and standing with these communities, we position ourselves to do all that is possible to ensure all NYC children are counted in the 2020 Census.