This column originally appeared in The Alpena News on April 3, 2019.
On Monday, the Michigan League for Public Policy joined a variety of other state and national advocacy groups, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), the Partnership for America’s Children, and the Michigan Nonprofit Association, to hold a Census Day of Action to draw attention to the 2020 Census and the importance of making sure all kids are accurately counted.
That’s because one year from now, on April 1, 2020, the 2020 United States Census will be getting underway. And when it does, there will be a tremendous amount at stake for our kids, our state and federal budgets, and Michigan.
Every 10 years, the federal government conducts a census to track changes in population and demography, and this data is used for important determinations related to how federal, state and local governments allocate their resources, essential public research, and the determination of future political representation.
What’s at stake?
Young children and those living in high-poverty communities are more likely to be missed in the Census process, and according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s national 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book, about 62,000 young children in Michigan are at risk of not being counted. About 11% of young children in our state live in hard-to-count areas. It’s even higher in Detroit: 70% of young children are at high risk of being missed. What’s at stake if all children aren’t counted? Over $4 billion in federal funding that is based on an accurate count of children to determine the need for programs and services, including child care, Medicaid and school lunch.
Based on new data from the Partnership for America’s Children and Count All Kids, Michigan has already been paying the price for undercounting our kids in 2010. They estimated that the 2010 Census should have counted 10,172 additional children under age 5, and that that undercount has cost us more than $9.7 million each year in funding from just five of the many federally funded programs for children and families (Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program/CHIP, foster care, adoption assistance, and a portion of the child care block grant).
Immigrant children and those whose primary language may not be English are already undercounted, and with the proposed inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 Census survey, the undercount will likely be even worse. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in April in the New York lawsuit against Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, with a decision expected in June. But regardless of the legal outcome, the seeds of confusion and intimidation have already been planted and we need to work extra hard to weed out that bad information.
What can you do?
Reading (or even skimming) this was a good start! Understanding the importance of the 2020 Census and why it’s so imperative to make sure all of our kids are counted is the cornerstone of becoming an advocate. You can follow and echo #countallkids, #Census2020 and #CountMeIn on social media to spread the word, along with sharing this helpful blog and video.
Talk to your neighbors, coworkers and partner organizations about the 2020 Census, especially if you work with communities of color, immigrants or residents with lower incomes. Stress the value of making sure everyone is counted, and help diffuse some of the anxiety about the process.
Or even better, help improve the Census from the inside by applying for a Census field job. Local field workers know their communities best, and are instrumental in conducting surveys with residents on a variety of topics. Click here to learn more and apply.
The League has been working closely with the Michigan Nonprofit Association’s Be Counted Michigan 2020, which has a variety of helpful information and resources for advocates and interested residents in Michigan. They have compiled a Google Drive folder of Census Day of Action toolkits and resources, including materials in Spanish, from various organizations. This includes talking points, letter to the editor templates, shareable graphics for social media and more.
Be Counted Michigan also recently held and recorded a webinar with a high-level Census official to address some important topics and common questions, like when and how will families be notified that they must complete the Census questionnaire, what are the basic ways that families can fill out the Census questionnaire, where should a child be counted if they split their time between two or more residences, and how can child care centers, schools, and other organizations that work with families help make sure young children are counted?
Census data informs much of the League’s work. But the statistics, the policies they inform, and the money they generate for our state, our residents and our kids are only effective if they’re accurate. And in 2020, counting all kids will be more crucial than ever.