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Report: Census Undercount Could Undermine Well-Being of Mass. Children

Census figures affect funding for Head Start, special education and affordable child care, so getting an accurate count is critical. (lourdesnique/Pixabay)
Census figures affect funding for Head Start, special education and affordable child care, so getting an accurate count is critical. (lourdesnique/Pixabay)
June 27, 2018

BOSTON – The latest figures on the well-being of children show Massachusetts remains second in the nation, but child advocates fear trouble ahead.

In the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book, the Bay State shows 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," said Speer. "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 Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, about 8 percent of Massachusetts children live in high-poverty areas, making an accurate count critical.

"There are over 100,000 kids that live in census tracts that have been traditionally difficult for the census to get an accurate count in Massachusetts," Berger stated. "That's important for expanding opportunity in our communities."

He added that an accurate census count also determines state representation in Congress, and helps policymakers create programs to expand opportunities for all young people.

With more than 14 million children living in poverty nationwide, and more than 180,000 in Massachusetts, Speer cautioned that 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 state leads the nation in health, and in students' reading and math achievement, the report shows 14 percent of Massachusetts children live in poverty, the same percentage as in 2010.

The full report is online at aecf.org.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - MA