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Potential 2020 Census Undercount Threatens VA Child Well-Being Index

In Virginia, 78,000 or 15 percent of young children (ages 0 to 4) live in hard-to-count census tracts, according to the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book. (Pixabay)
In Virginia, 78,000 or 15 percent of young children (ages 0 to 4) live in hard-to-count census tracts, according to the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book. (Pixabay)
June 27, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia continues to see great success when it comes to child well-being, ranked 10th in the nation in a new report, but children's advocates warn the Commonwealth could lose ground if federal and state officials don't work toward an accurate census count in 2020.

The new 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book, released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows the state is at a record high for kids having health insurance, at 95 percent.

In terms of education, about 87 percent of high-school students are graduating on time, and teen birth rates are at an all-time low.

Beth Nolan, KIDS COUNT director at Voices for Virginia's Children, says these positive gains show that early investment in children yields big returns. It's also why she's calling on local, state and federal officials to make sure there is an accurate count in the 2020 U.S. Census.

"Now we really need to start thinking about it, to make sure all of these gains that we see in child well-being here in the Commonwealth continue to be true in the next decade to come," Nolan said.

According to Nolan, Virginia receives nearly $3 billion annually in federal funding to support programs for children and families. But the census under-count of young children has worsened each year since 2010, so she worries those federal dollars will be lost.

Organizations and individuals have come together to make the 2020 Census a priority in Virginia.

For a more accurate census count, the Casey Foundation recommends government officials ensure the protection of respondents' data, and address the digital divide, says Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy.

"This will be the first census that's conducted primarily online, so we want to make sure that people who don't have access to the internet easily are able to complete the census, and to be represented and counted in the democracy," Speer said.

Voices for Virginia's Children is a member of Virginia Counts, a statewide coalition coordinated by the Virginia Civic Engagement Table. The coalition is currently developing a set of priorities and recommendations to ensure a proper count of all people in the 2020 Census.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - VA