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Children under 5 among most undercounted in last census

Posted Nov. 19, 2019

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Parents and adults with young children often don't realize they need to include all children who live with them full time or at least most of the time.

Counting every person in the United States in a census every 10 years is a challenge. But counting every infant and toddler in the country may be one of the most challenging parts of the job.

Parents and adults with young children often don’t realize they need to include all children who live with them full time or at least most of the time.

In the 2010 Census, nearly 1 million children (4.6% of children under the age of 5) were not counted, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In fact, children under age 5 are one of the largest groups of undercounted people in the United States.

Counting young children will be vitally important in the 2020 Census because population statistics are used by local, state and federal lawmakers to determine how to spend billions of dollars in federal and state funds annually over the next 10 years.

Much of that money funds programs that directly affect children. They include nutrition assistance, Head Start, special education, foster care, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and housing assistance to help a child’s family.

Knowing how many children live in a community is the foundation of many important municipal decisions. For example, should a community build a new library? A new school? A new hospital? Should Head Start for pre-K children be expanded?

These local decisions are driven by changes in population, and often by the growth in the number of children. A new school may be needed because of increased births in one area but the school might not be built if all newborns and toddlers — future schoolchildren — are not counted.

The Census Bureau is working to educate the public that young children should be counted if they live and sleep in a home most of the time. A newborn should be counted if he or she was born on or before April 1, 2020.

Why are young children missed?

Sometimes children are missed simply because adults in their households don’t return the census questionnaire.

Most often, people who do return the forms just forget to count everyone under their roof. They may leave off young children who live with them or may be staying with them temporarily.

This most often occurs in so-called “complex households” — for example, those with multiple generations of a family, unrelated families living together, and blended or foster families.

In the 2010 Census, about 40% of all young children fell under the complex household category, according to the Census Bureau.

People who move on or around Census Day are also at higher risk. This transience makes it hard to count children.

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