Young Children and the 2020 Census

Young Children and the 2020 Census

The Decennial Census happens every ten years and it is the only time we count everyone–adults, children and babies, citizens, immigrants, and visitors. Census data informs the allocation of federal, state, and local dollars, and states, localities, and businesses use census data for community planning, including where to open new stores and distribute school funding.

Yet, in 2010,  nearly 10% of young children under the age of 5 were missed, the most significant undercount in the Census, resulting in states losing over a half billion a year. [1]  Undercounting children in the Census threatens access to resources for children and families such as housing, jobs, equitable education, and health care. Early childhood funders also face obstacles in advocating for children and families when Census data is unreliable and misrepresents demographic data.

The impact of the 2020 Census will last a decade, because every Census survey sets the sampling process based on population data established by the Decennial Census. [2]  Facing budget constraints, the Census Bureau is planning to collect a majority of census information online, scaling back door-to-door outreach and canvassing.  These changes increase the potential of missing young children, minorities, low-income individuals and other marginalized individuals.

Why are Young Children Undercounted?

Young children are missed for different reasons than adults.  While adults are often missed in the Census because they don’t return Census forms, 4 out of 5 children are missed because adults who do return Census forms don’t count their young children.  Research also shows children at high risk of being missed include: children of color, children in linguistically isolated households, and children living in complex housing situations (e.g. grandparent householders; households including other family members or unrelated people; families without permanent housing staying with friends/family; families living in rentals or recently moving).  Children in complex housing situations are at high risk of being missed particularly when the person filling out the form is not their parent.  Fear and confusion about including young children might also contribute to adults not counting children (e.g. afraid they have too many people, living in senior citizens housing).

Learn more about the young child undercount and what EC funders can do to elevate the importance of this issue and prepare for the 2020 Census:

Why Kids are Undercounted & What’s At Risk

Count All Kids, Census 2020 – Partnership for America’s Children, Learn more about why kids are undercounted, and sign up for updates, tools, resources and a list of Census advocates in your area.  [Facebook] [Twitter]

The Undercount of Young Children, United States Census Bureau 

Why We Need Specific Strategies to Count Young Children – Count All Kids Campaign, a new one page refresher on counting young children including five short tested messages from The Partnership for America’s Children messaging research, and two specific tools that you can use to help ensure that all children are counted in 2020.

Counting for Dollars 2020:The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds (Nov 2019) A new analysis from George Washington University Institute of Public Policy. Identifies the 16 largest census-guided financial assistance programs and the distribution of their FY 2015 funds by program and by state – includes examples for the impact on programs that serve kids nationally and by state. Further analysis of up to 300 census-guided federal programs forthcoming.


How Funders Can Ensure Kids Count

5 Things Early Childhood Funders Can Do, ECFC Feature, July 2019

Examples of Funder Actions on Counting All Kids, ECFC Feature, Updated Dec 2019

Census 2020 Menu of Options for Funders – Funders Census Initiative and the United Philanthropy Forum.


Initiatives & Tools

Funders Census Initiative 2020 (FCI) Launched by the Funders Committee  for Civic Participation. The FCI Funders Toolkit  includes information on contributing public comments related to the citizenship question, key milestones to know about, fact sheets, funder strategies, and a recommended plan of action. 

Hard to Count 2020 – interactive map, searchable by state, county, address, congressional and state legislative districts, and allows for download of data on census tracts including race and age.

Who’s At Risk of Being Miscounted? An interactive tool from the Urban Institute explores data on who is most at risk of being miscounted in the 2020 Census, and includes an online interactive tool that allows you to explore the potential miscount by state and demographics, including race and age (e.g. children 0-4).


Complete Count Committees  [U.S. Census Bureau]  [National Council of State Legislatures]


Updated December 6, 2019