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As Virginia Gears Up for Census, Kids Most Likely to Be Left Out

Youth advocates and state leaders are worried that thousands of children could go uncounted in the 2020 Census, with high stakes for schools and other state infrastucture.

Nationally, children under the age of five are the most likely population group to be undercounted, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Almost one in twenty children that age were not counted in 2010, according to the Bureau’s estimates. Black and Hispanic youth were especially likely to go undercounted.

Demographer Bill O’Hare, a longtime advocate for better counts of children, said that the issue often boiled down to confusion and concealment.

“And we have some of the same problems here -- of kids living in unstable housing situations, of parents not aware that they’re supposed to report young children,” O’Hare said at a meeting of the Virginia Complete Count Commission on Tuesday.

One 2018 study by Census Bureau researchers found that Virginia had the fifth largest estimated net undercount of children under 5.

Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson, who is spearheading the state’s census efforts, said many adults lacked clarity on whether to count children.

“There’s just a lot of confusion about, ‘Should I count my child? Am I only supposed to count adults?’” Thomasson said. “I’ve talked to a lot of really smart adults who think like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, you’re supposed to count your children?’”

Republicans in the General Assembly cut $1.5 million in census outreach funding proposed by Governor Ralph Northam from its budget this year, so the state will have to rely on community partners to spread awareness.

Margaret Nimmo Holland heads the advocacy group Voices for Virginia’s Children, which is working with schools, healthcare providers, and others to spread the word about the census.

“Things like funding for schools, information about where to build new businesses and infrastructure -- all of that depends on getting accurate census data,” Holland said. “And we’re stuck with the numbers that we get for ten years.”

The 2020 Census will be available online beginning next March. Local staff will conduct household follow-ups to households that didn't respond or that are missing infomration in May. 

bpaviour@wcve.org