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GUEST COMMENTARY: Children are undercounted in US Census
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GUEST COMMENTARY: Children are undercounted in US Census

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Richard Barnes

Richard Barnes, Ph.D.

Every 10 years our country conducts a census, a numerical count of each and every individual in the United States.

Soon, the 2020 Census will begin, and it is important that everyone be included in the count.


It is all about money! The Federal Government will distribute trillions of dollars back to communities based upon the results of the census and the number of people who live there.

Some population groups are undercounted, and this affects the amount of money sent back to schools, neighborhoods and communities for a variety of needs. Dr. Vanessa Allen McCloud reiterates, “It is very important to count everyone in your household, including babies who are born by April 1.”

Children age births to 5 have a history of being undercounted. This means that healthcare dollars, WIC funding, food stamps, housing subsidies are all less than what they should be.

A great deal of research goes in to finding out why young children are not counted.

First, the Census survey form itself may explain one reason for this undercount.

Strane and Griffis, writing in the American Journal of Public Health, state that “the census questionnaires provide room for information on six household members. Because household members often are listed from oldest to youngest, children sometimes get left off the form.”

To correct this, parents should enter the names and ages of all children and write outside the parameters of the Census form, if need be.

Second, low-income families might fear that adding an accurate count of the number of people living at that apartment, may trigger a higher rent from the landlord, or have authorities take action for “over crowding.”

But people have nothing to fear in filling out an accurate census count. This information is suppressed and never shared with landlords or public officials.

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Third, the proportion of children who are omitted varies, however, according to their race and ethnicity. “The net undercount rate for black (children) alone in this age range was 4.6% ... and the net undercount rate for Hispanic children in this age range was 7.5%.”

In his book, William O’Hare explains. “Young black and Hispanic children account for about two-thirds of the net undercount in this age group even though they only account for about 40% of the population in this age range.”

Parents, in answering questions about race and ethnicity might be confused on how to respond. Blended families, having parents of different races, often do not know how to respond. Better to guess than to go uncounted.

People working to collect 2020 Census data need your help. Your participation is important to your neighborhood, to your community, to your city and state.

Everyone counts and, remember, this is how your federal funds come back to improve your community. It’s all about money!

Richard Barnes is a 16-year resident of Gary and holds a Ph.D. in Social Theory, Research Methods and Demography from South Dakota State University. His dissertation dealt with economic theory and county-to-county net migration. The opinions are the writer's.


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