Child Trends Opposes Decision to End Census Count Prematurely

Research BriefCOVID-19Aug 7 2020

The recent decision by the United States Census Bureau to end data collection for the 2020 Census prematurely (by September 30, 2020) jeopardizes the future of millions of children and youth—especially children and youth of color—by virtually ensuring an undercount of the population. As of early August, 4 in 10 households have not yet been counted, leaving the agency with mere weeks to reach tens of millions of households in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. As an organization committed to improving the lives and prospects of children and youth, Child Trends calls on the Census Bureau to continue data collection through at least October 31, and on Congress to extend the legal deadline to deliver the results of the Census past December 31.

Without these steps, our nation’s leaders risk inflicting indefensible, long-term harm on millions of children and youth in the following ways:

Shortchanging critical federal assistance programs supporting children and families, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Title IV-E Foster Care, Title IV-E Adoption Assistance, and the Child Care and Development Block Grant. These programs account for more than one third of the $800 billion annually that is allocated, using Census data, to more than 300 federal programs.

Exacerbating racial and ethnic disparities in access to public services and political power. While an undercount of children and families in the United States will hurt all Americans, it will disproportionately impact communities of color. Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic communities were already at increased risk of being undercounted before this decision. Undercounting communities of color will limit the just allocation of funds and power in the communities that need them the most.

Cascading inaccuracies, over the next decade, in the data on which school systems, early childhood programs, child welfare agencies, and public health departments rely. Census results are used to generate weights for many sample-based federal datasets, including the American Community Survey, the Current Population Survey, and the National Household Education Surveys Program—the very surveys that are critical to good decision making on behalf of children and youth.

The burdens of a Census undercount would be felt for the next decade and would harm our nation’s children. Congress and the Census Bureau have a responsibility to ensure a fair and accurate count to prevent this damage.