Perspectives: Census Can Help Improve the Lives of Children
Volume 5, No. 1, Spring 2000
Nolo Martinez and Kirsta Millar
For the past 10 years, nearly 70,000 children have been missing in North Carolina. They were not considered when officials made decisions about where to build schools or when local governments requested funding for Head Start and other child care programs. These children have been missing because they were not counted in the 1999 Census, the last time the federal government counted North Carolinians. Children were missed more than twice as often as adults. The most likely children missed in the census were African-Americans and Hispanics, many of whom were poor. (The 70,000 figure is derived from the Census Bureau's post-enumeration survey conducted as part of the 1990 census.)
Census 2000 is here, and we cannot afford to miss North Carolina's children again. Census numbers are used to distribute $180 billion annually in federal funds to state and local governments for education, health care, child-care assistance, housing and transportation. The amount of money available and where it will go in North Carolina depend largely on the number of children in a given community.
For example, school planners use the number of school-age children in a community to determine where to build new schools. If the average number of children per school in the state is 700, that means the number of children not counted in the last census could fill up approximately 100 new schools in our state. No wonder many schools districts face overcrowding in their classrooms.
According to a recent study by Price Waterhouse Coopers, North Carolina stands to lose at least $131 million in federal funding between 2002 and 2012 if the undercount rate in the 2000 census is similar to the one in 1990. In the wake of the financial devastation caused by Hurricane Floyd, North Carolina cannot afford to lose $131 million.
Why does the census miss children?
- Parents may not be aware that their census form should include children living in their home -- or they do not submit a form at all.
- Parents may mistakenly fear that the information they give about their children may be used against them. The census is confidential and the Census Bureau cannot share individual answers it receives with welfare agencies, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the IRS, courts, police or the military.
- Children who split their time between two homes, in temporary arrangements like foster care, or who are living with other relatives or adults may be missed because no one is sure who should include them in their household.
- Busy parents may disregard the survey as just another piece of "junk mail." Despite provisions for follow-up visits, people responding by mail provide the most accurate numbers.
- Parents may receive the survey who do not read English.
Whatever the reason for undercounting children, the resources and services available to improve their lives will be in jeopardy unless we do a better job this time around. The future of our state depends on counting every North Carolinian. Let's make North Carolina kids count in the 2000 census; we owe it to our children to have a better count.
Dr. H. Nolo Martinez is a member of the N.C. Child Advocacy Institute Board of Directors and is director of the Governor's Office for Hispanic/Latino Affairs.
Kirsta Millar is director of the Knowledge Exchange at the N.C. Child Advocacy Institute.
"Perspectives" is a non-reviewed article. The opinions expressed in "Perspectives" are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions of FFCI, its Editorial Board members, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, or NC State University.
Cite this article:
"Perspectives: Census Can Help Improve the Lives of Children." The Forum for Family and Consumer Issues 5.1 (2000): 6 pars. 31 March 2000.