More than 100,000 Ohio children, and more than 1 million children under the age of five nationwide, are at risk of going uncounted in the 2020 Census.
The estimates were released Wednesday as part of the 2018 Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a national nonprofit that studies childhood well-being in the U.S., and the Children’s Defense Fund Ohio, a state partner of the foundation that advocates for children and families.
The estimates are based on calculations from the U.S. Census Bureau after previous 10-year population counts, explained Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy for the Casey Foundation.
Most often the children that are missed, she said, are low-income, minority and immigrant kids who live in transient housing or with friends or family instead of in a steady, single family home. That movement and housing instability makes them easier to miss, Speer said.
Those children are also more likely to live in larger cities.
Estimates from the Children's Defense Fund show 73 percent of Cleveland’s children, 52 of Columbus’s, 46 percent of Cincinnati’s and 38 percent of Toledo’s young children are at risk of being overlooked.
Why it matters
“For states and localities, it’s very important that the Census is accurate because that’s going to determine the way that resources are going to be allocated across the country,” Speer said.
About 300 federal programs use Census data to allocate more than $800 billion in funding each year to state-run programs. They include Medicaid, food stamps, Head Start and the free school lunch program, among others. Fewer children counted means less funding and a strain on resources, Speer said. But the undercounting also has an impact on state representation. The Census is used to determine the number of seats a state holds in Congress.
“With so much in federal funding and support to really meet the needs of those most vulnerable children at risk, we really don’t need to have a repeat of what happened before,” Defense Fund Ohio Executive Director Tracy Najera said.
The health of those programs, Najera said, will impact the long-term well-being of Ohio’s children, who, according to the 2018 Kids Count data, are faring slightly better than in other states.
Overall, Ohio is ranked 25th in the nation for childhood well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s report.
Speer explained in the past few years, both the country and the state have seen growth in high school graduation rates, a decline in teen pregnancies and fewer children living in poverty, but those are incremental changes.
“The childhood poverty rate has not returned to pre-recession rates and we know that we still have one of the highest teen birth rates among developed countries in the world,” she said. “So, we’re going in the right direction, but there’s still room for improvement.”
In Ohio, education statistics measured by the report have largely stagnated when compared to 2009 measurements. The state ranks 16th nationally for education outcomes, but that high ranking doesn’t tell the full story, Najera said.
“We have to keep in mind that our position in that ranking also depends on the performance of other states,” she said. “So, as other states are maybe dropping in performance, maybe that raises our performance and our ranking, makes us look better.”
Education measurements in the report include the number of Ohio 3-and 4-year-olds in school, graduation rates and national test scores for fourth and eighth graders.