Counting Kids in the 2020 Census: A Challenge and An Opportunity
April 2020

Jessica Cohen
Program Analyst, Health Systems Transformation

A fair and accurate 2020 Census is essential for ensuring that the government can allocate appropriate federal funding for programs and services that support maternal and child health. In 2010, more than 10 percent of all children younger than  5 were missed. Young children are undercounted in the census at a higher rate than any other age group, and young black and Hispanic children are especially at risk of being missed. The main cause for the undercount is confusion. Some parents or guardians are not sure whether they need to include young children on the census form. In the following types of households, the confusion is amplified:

  • Children who reside with grandparents or relatives
  • Children who split their time between parents
  • Children who are living temporarily in a household that is not their permanent home
  • Children living in homes with undocumented adults

The impact of failing to count young children in the census stretches is long term: children, their families, and their communities are negatively affected for 10 years.

What’s at stake? 
Census data determine the allocation of funding for many services for children and families.  
The census data determine how more than $675 billion will be distributed in federal funds, grants, and support to states, counties, and communities.  This money funds services and programs that touch the lives of children and families, such as:

  • Health insurance and nutrition programs, including Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • Education programs, including Title I funding to schools in low-income communities and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) special education funding for children with disabilities
  • Early childhood program, including Head Start and Childcare and Development Block Grant funds

The 2010 undercount of young children resulted in a loss of more than $1 billion each year in federal funding for the above-mentioned and many other vital health and social programs serving children.

Census data helps us understand the health status and health needs of the population. 
Not only does the census data affect the amount of federal investments,  it also informs decisions about programs and services. States and communities use census data  to ensure that children and their families have the precise services they need to thrive. Decisions about the locations of new schools and hospitals, for example, require accurate and fair counting of all children; knowing this information is vital to family and community well-being. If children are again undercounted in the 2020 census it will lead to misinformed decisions that have a meaningful impact for the next 10 years and beyond.

Census data determines political representation.
The census data determine the redrawing of federal, state, local and school voting districts. Moreover, the population count determines the distribution of state Congressional seats. Getting an accurate count is the basis for fair political representation among states. Redistricting and apportionment have a strong impact on policymaking, which shapes the future of our country.

What can Title V do to get involved? 
The 2020 census is already underway. Census forms will be sent to most households in mid-March. “Census Day,” which recognizes the importance of the census on a national scale, is April 1, 2020. State Title V staff are trusted messengers. They should disseminate accurate information about the census to parents and communities. Important messages include:

  • The census can be filled out online, by phone, or by mail.
  • All responses are confidential and protected by law.
  • The census does not ask about citizenship status. All members of the household, including non-citizens, should be counted on the census form.

In addition, Title V programs have an opportunity to connect with a plethora of existing 2020 census outreach efforts to emphasize the importance of counting all children. Title V programs should consider reaching MCH populations with messaging campaigns in the settings where they access services. Effective provider partnerships include the following:

  • Post AMCHP’s parent fact sheets (available in both English and Spanish) in waiting rooms
  • Create handouts with frequently asked questions and have them available to demystify the census
  • Include census information in packets that parents receive when they leave appointments with their newborn babies.

Finally, Title V programs should promote the need for all families to participate in the census on all health department social media outlets using AMCHP’s Social Media Resource Guide and educate colleagues on how important it is to get an accurate count of the children in their state.

States cannot afford to have undercounts that will shape program budgets and decisions for the next 10 years. Please join AMCHP in promoting census participation for all and in raising awareness of the impact the 2020 census will have on children, families, and communities.

AMCHP Member Fact Sheet 
AMCHP Parent Fact Sheet (English) 
AMCHP Parent Fact Sheet (Spanish) 
AMCHP Social Media Resource Guide