If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is how interconnected things are, like how having access to child care, going to the grocery store, or spending time with loved ones impacts many aspects of our lives. But right now, there is also something positive happening that highlights the interaction between our neighbors, our economy, and our communities: The 2020 Census!
The United States census happens every 10 years and plays a large role in our communities for the next decade. It determines how many representatives we send to Congress, how voting districts are drawn and how many federal dollars we get for important programs that we rely on every day. Businesses also use census data when deciding where to locate and hire and what products to sell. I work at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, where we conduct policy research and advocacy to improve the lives of children. Through our work, we know how important an accurate census count is to the quality of life for children.
The Census is Critical for Kids
Even before a child is born, they rely on census data for healthy development. Their mother might use Medicaid health insurance to cover the cost of doctors’ visits and the WIC program to get needed food to help her feed herself and her baby during pregnancy. When the baby is born, WIC will continue to help the child by teaching their mother how to breastfeed and providing other needed supports. When the child is 4, Head Start will help prepare them for kindergarten. When they are ready to take the school bus to elementary school, the child will travel over well-maintained roads. At school, the child will be able to have two complete meals to ensure they are ready to learn. The child will stay healthy with regular medical checkups, thanks to insurance paid for, in part, by the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
According to George Washington University’s Counting for Dollars project, Arkansas communities receive nearly $10 billion dollars in federal funding each year, based in whole or in part on census data. That number is just for the top 55 largest programs. With other programs included, the number would be even higher. Health care, schools, roads and bridges, and so many other things critical to the quality of life of children depends on census data. And the number of people counted determines how many dollars we receive. In fact, for each person not counted our state could lose some $33,000 over the next decade. But children, especially children under age five, have historically been undercounted in the census. When a young child is not counted in the census, that means they won’t count for most of their childhood.
Why Children Are Often Left Out
Children are left out of the census for different reasons. Maybe they’ve been living for several months with a grandparent who isn’t their legal guardian. The grandparent considers the situation temporary, so they don’t include their grandchild on their census form. Maybe the child has young parents who haven’t completed the census before and aren’t sure of its purpose. Or maybe the child and the rest of their family are living at a family friend’s house, and the family friend doesn’t think they should be included on the form. But wherever a child — or anyone else for that matter — lived on April 1, even if it was just for a few months, that is where they should be included on the census form.
Completing the Census Is an Act of Service
While people across the country are adapting to life during the pandemic, they are also donating to local nonprofits, supporting local businesses, volunteering to pack meals, and checking-in on family members and neighbors. An easy way you can help serve your community today, — from the safety of your own home — is completing the census. It will help children, your community and our economy for years to come. Thankfully, during the current crisis, there are several options to take the census: you can complete the form online at 2020census.gov, by phone at 844-330-2020 or by paper form. I hope that you will get counted, because everyone counts.
About the author: Rebecca Zimmermann is the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families community engagement director. She works with partner organizations and individual advocates across Arkansas to increase the number of voices advocating for children at both the state’s and nation’s capitols. Currently, she is also working to raise awareness about the undercount of young children in the census and its impact on funding for important programs that kids and families rely on.