Have you ever wondered how the federal government decides to divide funds among the states for institutions and crucial programs that help children live healthy, happy lives?
To allocate funds to programs like Head Start, public schools, health insurance coverage, and nutrition, complex formulas are used that depend on knowing how many children live in every state and community. And that is determined by the census survey that happens every ten years. The next survey is right around the corner in 2020. Governments at every level, and communities themselves, need to be prepared to ensure an accurate count.
The stakes are especially high for children. In Virginia, we receive nearly $3 billion annually in federal funds to support programs that provide support to children and their families. And historically, kids – especially young children – have been undercounted. Researchers analyze census results and compare them to other data sources to determine the accuracy of the census. This analysis helps determine which communities will be hard to count in the next survey.
Young children are harder to count than other age groups for a variety of reasons. Children in families with complex living arrangements (such as multi-generational families or households with shared custody of children), children in families who are homeless or have unstable housing, and children living in immigrant families are less likely to be counted. People who live in high-poverty neighborhoods are also at risk for not being counted. In Virginia, 78,000 children from birth to age four live in hard-to-count census tracts – that’s 15 percent of the state’s population of young children. If not all young kids in Virginia are counted in the 2020 census, that means less funding comes into the state for programs that are vital to getting young children off to a strong start.
An accurate count of people in the decennial census survey also affects the ability of both the public and private sectors to plan for infrastructure, services, and business investments. Where will we need to build libraries, schools, and hospitals in the next ten years? Data derived from this survey and other Census Bureau surveys provides critical information used to help determine our quality of life.
How Can We Help Ensure an Accurate Count?
First, people need to know the census is coming and why it matters. Outreach and communication from our state and local governments is essential.
Second, public and private community organizations can come together to reach out to families in our area, particularly those who are hardest to count.
Third, our local governments can work with businesses to ensure Internet access in areas that do not currently have it, as the primary way of filling out the 2020 census will be online. It is critical that leaders start making plans now to ensure the most accurate count possible in two years.
As a child advocate, you can raise the issue of the census wherever you are involved – your child’s school, your faith community, or at a legislator’s town hall. Local groups can form Complete Count Committees to ensure participation from a variety of community organizations invested in achieving an accurate count. Check census.gov today, and search “complete count committee” for more information.
As Virginians, we can be proud that our commonwealth ranks tenth among all the states this year in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual ranking of child well-being in the KIDS COUNT Data Book. (This analysis is made by using – you guessed it – census data.) This relatively high ranking, however, could be in jeopardy if all children are not counted in the 2020 census. Let’s start planning for an accurate count now.