While fewer children were living in poverty in the United States in 2016, the 2020 census could undercount children age 5 and under by a million, putting at risk hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for child well-being over the next decade, an annual report from the Annie. E. Casey Foundation finds.
According to the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book, indicators for economic well-being improved in 2016, with the percentage of children living in poverty falling to 19 percent, from 21 percent in 2015 — the largest single-year decline since the Great Recession — and the percentage living in high-poverty neighborhoods remaining unchanged at 13 percent. In addition, the percentage of children in families with a high housing cost burden fell to 32 percent, from 41 percent in 2010, at the height of the foreclosure focus.
The report, which measured child well-being in four areas — economic well-being, education, health, and family and community — also found that while the high school graduation rate in 2016 hit at an all-time high of 84 percent, other education-related indicators showed little improvement, with 65 percent of fourth-graders not reading at grade level, 67 percent of eighth-graders not proficient in math, and only 48 percent of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in pre-K. The report also found that the share of children who lacked health insurance fell by half between 2010 and 2016, to 4 percent; that the teen birth rate in 2016 hit a record low; and that rates of low birth weight and child and teen deaths remained stable.
At the same time, the report found that racial/ethnic disparities in the U.S. persist, with African-American, Native American, Latinx, and Southeast Asian children continuing to fare worse than other groups, with some notable exceptions: African-American kids were more likely than the national average to be enrolled in pre-K and to live in families where the head of household has a high school diploma, while Latinx kids had a higher rate of healthy birth weight and a lower child and teen death rate.
As debate continues over questions to be included in the 2020 census, the report notes that about 4.5 million young children live in neighborhoods where there is a high risk of undercounting. The 2010 census undercounted about a million children, or nearly 5 percent, under the age of 5. If missed in the census, the report's authors write, low-income children, children in immigrant families, and children of color — who by 2020 will represent more than half of all children in the the country — will be most at risk as a result of cuts in funding for critical programs.
"If we don't count children, we render their needs invisible and their futures uncertain," said Annie E. Casey Foundation president and CEO Patrick McCarthy. "A major census undercount will result in overcrowded classrooms, shuttered Head Start programs, understaffed hospital emergency rooms, and more kids without health care....We will count on children of all races and ethnicities to build America's future, so the country must count all children in this upcoming census, so we can direct funding to meet their needs."
(Photo credit: Annie E. Casey Foundation)