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PA Kids Make Gains, But Census Undercount Could Hinder Progress

Nearly one of every six Pennsylvania children is at risk of being overlooked as people are counted for the 2020 Census. (Bess-Hamiti/Pixabay)
Nearly one of every six Pennsylvania children is at risk of being overlooked as people are counted for the 2020 Census. (Bess-Hamiti/Pixabay)
June 27, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The latest figures on the well-being of children show Pennsylvania ranks 17th in the nation, but children's advocates fear trouble ahead.

In the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book, the Keystone State showed improvement in eight of 16 categories covering economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

But Laura Speer, the foundation's associate director for policy reform and advocacy, is concerned that including a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census will discourage immigrants from participating and lead to an under-count of young children, endangering federal funding of programs affecting children.

"All people, including kids, have the right to be counted and represented," Speer said. "But without any real political or economic power, kids rely on adults to protect and advocate for them, and they can't fill out the census forms."

Census figures are used to determine levels of federal support for child-focused programs, from school lunches to children's health insurance.

According to Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, those programs are especially important to children living in low-income families.

"One in five children in our state, 20 percent of the kids, is still living in poverty," said Benso, "and connected to that ends up being, oftentimes, a lack of opportunity."

She added that nearly one out of every six children in Pennsylvania is at risk of being overlooked in the upcoming census count.

With more than 14 million children living in poverty nationwide, and more than 880,000 in Pennsylvania, Speer stressed getting the numbers right is critical.

"We want to do right by all kids and make sure that they have strong families, strong communities and the opportunities that will help them to thrive," she said. "And many of the trends that we're seeing are really good, but there's still a lot of work to do."

While the percentage of Pennsylvania children living in poverty has declined, the number living in high-poverty neighborhoods has increased.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA