As a part of the U.S. Constitution, America has one chance every decade to count each resident through the decennial census. The census count helps determine everything from how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives, the number of state legislative districts needed, how much federal funding is allocated to states and localities, and which communities need a new elementary school, hospital, or highway.
Kentucky receives $2.7 billion per year in federal funds for ten large programs that provide health coverage, food assistance, early childhood and K-12 education, child care, and foster care. These programs, and many others whose allocations are derived from census data, are critical to ensuring each child has the opportunity for a strong and healthy start in life. Each child not counted in the 2020 census is not planned for in those program budgets – a mistake that lasts a decade.
Unfortunately, young children are the most undercounted age group in the census – a problem that has steadily worsened since 1980. In the 2010 census, the net undercount of kids across the U.S. ages zero to four was approximately 1 million, with an estimated 8,000 Kentucky children missed.
It is also estimated that 11 percent of Kentucky children under age five live in hard-to-count areas (census tracts where 73 percent or less of households returned the 2010 census by mail), including parts of eastern Kentucky and west Louisville (see map). There are a variety of factors in the challenge to count every child, including their living situation, family structure, demographics and geographic location.
To get an accurate and complete count of residents, the U.S. Census Bureau must build an accurate address list, empower residents to respond, and efficiently follow up with those who do not make a timely response. Though the Census Bureau coordinates the nationwide effort, it relies on state and local leaders and advocates to organize community-level efforts to ensure every resident is counted.
Stay tuned over the coming months as we continue to discuss the 2020 census and how you can get involved in raising awareness and taking action in your community.