- An estimated 1 million children under the age of 5 were missed in the 2010 census due to homelessness, living in hard-to-reach places, immigration status and other factors. This undercounting led to the federal government not allocating up to $880 billion in funds associated with programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Head Start, according an op-ed in the Hechinger Report.
- The Casey Foundation’s 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book warns that the 2020 census could result in an undercount of roughly 1.5 million children since, in addition to present challenges, the 2020 census will be online, potentially eliminating families that don’t have access to technology or who have trouble using the system. The 2020 census will also include a question about citizenship for the first time in 70 years, which may also lead to avoidance of the census.
- Harvard University researchers have designed the Early Learning Study@Harvard, based on a door-to-door household survey, that seeks to capture the early education and child care experiences of a sample of children ages 3 to 4 and link those experiences to learning progress through elementary school. They are also recommending a united effort across states to conduct similar surveys so that better early education programs can be developed and made accessible to all children.
The undercounting of certain populations during the last census is a problem that has been widely acknowledged by the U.S. Census Bureau. The issue is being examined to determine better ways to address these hidden populations in the future. However, the bureau lost its director last year over funding issues and a permanent director has not yet been announced. The leadership gap and the funding issues have some observers worried about how well these undercounts will be addressed in the future. States including North Carolina, Texas, and California are also concerned about the impact of the undercount on children.
The census has a big impact on political and funding issues for the nation. If counts are inaccurate, state representation can be affected. Education, nutrition and health care funding are also impacted. This is especially true for young children, who are at the greatest risk of being overlooked. Most educators know that the health, well-being, and education that young children receive impacts learning gaps and educational progress once the child enters school.
Though surveys such as the one now being conducted by Harvard University are likely to glean valuable information about the way that early childhood experiences connect with later learning, these surveys cannot be substituted for official census data. School leaders can help impact future census activities by staying informed on the issue, connecting with state leaders to help them realize the importance of accurate counts, and educating families about the importance of being counted and the privacy protections offered by census laws.