Census May Miss More Kids, Study Says

December 16, 2009|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,brent.jones@baltsun.com

Children under age 5, undercounted in the country's once-a-decade census more than any other age group, could be missed at an even higher rate in 2010, according to a report released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

More than 750,000 children 5 and younger were missed in the 2000 census, about 4 percent of the entire group, according to data from the Census Bureau's Demographic Analysis.

The report's author anticipates a higher percentage could be overlooked during next year's census because of the increased number of children living in unusual housing situations and the growing number of racial and ethnic minorities, historically more .difficult to count.

Census counts are used for more than 140 programs that distribute about $400 billion of federal funds to states and localities, including such child welfare programs as Head Start, Foster Care Title IV-E, Improving Teaching Quality State Grants and health insurance. The money is distributed in part by population.

"When children are not counted accurately, we don't get a true picture of our nation, and communities don't get their rightful share of public funds or political power," said Laura Beavers, coordinator of the national Kids Count project, in a news release.

William O'Hare, a demographer and consultant to the Casey Foundation, cited four main reasons why children 5 and under are undercounted in the census:

* The kids are more than three times as likely as adults to be living in households with seven or more people. More than 8.4 percent of children live in such large households, compared to less than 2.6 percent of adults.

* They are more likely to live in more mobile families. Data show 21 percent of children under age 5 moved in the past year compared to 16 percent of the total population.

* They are more likely to live in rental units, which are harder to count.

* They are more likely than teenagers to live with individuals who are not their parents, which makes them harder to classify.

Advocates recommend census workers enlist nonprofit and advocate support in local committees to educate people about the undercount rate for children. The report states that census workers should also target services currently used by hard-to-count families such as Head Start and other government-supported programs.

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