Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children


Census 2020 is coming. So now is the time to make sure all of the nation’s children get counted.

“If we don’t count children, we render their needs invisible and their futures uncertain,” Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says in a foundation blog post. “A major census undercount will result in overcrowded classrooms, shuttered Head Start programs, understaffed hospital emergency rooms, and more kids without health care.”

How many children could be missed? One million or more.

According to a Los Angeles Times article: “The problem has grown worse over the last four decades, experts said. In 2010, the census failed to count nearly 1 million children younger than 5. Experts warn that it could exceed that number in 2020.”

Casey says an undercount of this size would “short-change child well-being over the next decade by putting at risk hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding for programs that are critical to family stability and opportunity.”

MassBudget breaks down the financial impact here.



Several obstacles can make it tough to count children including homelessness. In addition:

“Some places are simply harder to count, often for reasons of poverty or geography. About 4.5 million children under age five live in these settings, from remote corners of Alaska and the Appalachians to dense blocks of apartment buildings in large cities,” McCarthy writes in a USA Today op-ed that he co-authored with Vanita Gupta, the CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

“While the undercount rate for white children was 2.7 percent, it was 6.3 percent for black children and 7.5 percent for Latino kids,” they add.

And, “Immigrant families may hesitate to respond out of fear in the current political climate, particularly due to the inclusion of an unnecessary question on citizenship, even though laws safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of responses.”

In addition, “… this will be the first census conducted mostly online. Concerns about privacy and cybersecurity cut across ages, races and incomes, while disparities in internet access hit low-income communities the hardest.”

Another challenge: The Census Bureau is underfunded. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports:

“… the census has been suffering from a severe lack of funding. Typically, Congress steps up funding three years before the census, but in 2017 that increase didn’t occur.

“As a result, the bureau is far behind in conducting opinion research and creating messages to remind Americans about the importance of completing the census or crafting campaigns that work for the millions of residents who don’t speak English as a first language. Even though Congress recently approved additional census spending, there are no guarantees this increase will be enough — or will continue.”


Advocacy Opportunities

Fortunately, any long list of daunting challenges can quickly be converted into a long list of advocacy opportunities.

The ACLU, for example, has filed a lawsuit “challenging the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census,” according to The Boston Globe.

On the philanthropic front: “Right now, a coalition of foundations and advocates is working with civil-rights leaders, census experts, business leaders, faith-based groups, digital specialists, and many others to put in place a strategic response to these looming challenges,” according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Advocacy is also happening at the state level. Locally, grant-makers have formed the Massachusetts Census Equity Fund 2020 to boost community awareness and action. And the nonprofit organization Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ), supported by the Fund for New Jersey, is sharing Congressional district fact sheets that show where the “hard to count” areas are so that advocates can focus on reaching families in these communities.

“We created these fact sheets as a way for policymakers and community groups to understand what was at stake in their district,” said Alana Vega, ACNJ’s Kids Count Coordinator.

And in every state, early educators are in an ideal position to share Census information with the families they serve — and with their professional networks.

Other advocacy strategies from the Casey Foundation include:

• addressing the digital divide by ensuring that families who don’t have Internet service at home can use school and library resources access the Census online

• encouraging government officials to ensure that people’s data is protected

• campaigning for more federal Census funding, and

• calling on state and local governments to invest in education outreach about the Census

Kids count — they’re the future of this country. So as the Census unfurls, please help make sure that kids are also counted.