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Census Undercount Puts NC Children at Risk

Thirty-six percent of North Carolina children live in single-parent households, a factor that can make it difficult for families to get ahead financially. (Twenty20)
Thirty-six percent of North Carolina children live in single-parent households, a factor that can make it difficult for families to get ahead financially. (Twenty20)
June 27, 2018

RALEIGH, N. C. – North Carolina is maintaining its stride in improving access to health care and economic well-being for its children, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book released today.

But experts warn it's a precarious perch as the state prepares for the 2020 Census.

Concerns over changes in how the census will be conducted in two years are leading some to estimate a potential under-count will put 73,000 children in the state at risk.

Whitney Tucker, director of research for the group NC Child, explains what's at stake.

"The potential under-count of young children in North Carolina could threaten hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for programs that impact children's health and education, and safety," Tucker says. "So, our overall ranking of 32nd in the country is really at stake based on the results of the upcoming census."

The under-count of children in 2000 led to a loss of CHIP funding, which placed thousands of North Carolina children on a waiting list to receive health benefits. The state ranks 43rd in the country for its rate of low birth-weight babies.

On the positive side, only 4 percent of the state's children are without health insurance, a decrease of 50 percent since 2010. North Carolina ranks 29th among the states for children's health.

Roughly 300 federal programs use census-derived data to allocate more than $800 billion a year, and there are concerns over the U.S. Census Bureau's lack of leadership and decision to transition to a largely digital survey.

Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Casey Foundation, says that may exclude some people.

"There's still not a permanent director and we know that that's important; there's the need to fund state and local outreach for the census; and especially for the under-count of children, it's important to expand the pool of trusted messengers around the census," Speer says.

Even with some of the gains, half of North Carolina's children are living in poor or low-income households, adds Tucker.

"Family economic security clearly remains a challenge here in the state," she explained, "even though families have experienced significant progress since the last time the Data Book came out, and there's been a 12-percent decrease in the percentage of children living in poverty."

The full report is online at aecf.org.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC