Children & Families

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Making It Count:

With the 2000 U.S. Census drawing near, a report is calling attention to the government's failure to count more than 2 million children during the 1990 census.

Children are missed more than any other age group in the decennial population count, the report says. "When children are not counted accurately, we don't get a true picture of our nation," William P. O'Hare, the coordinator of the annual Kids Count project at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, writes in the report, which the foundation released last month.

Because census figures are used to help determine spending for certain federal programs--such as foster-care and nutrition programs--that "overlooked undercount" has a variety of implications, he argues.

For school districts, especially large ones like New York City and Los Angeles, the undercount can exacerbate the problem of overcrowding, the report argues, because school officials are not alerted to the true size of the child population.

The children who are not counted during the census are more likely to be younger than older. Preschool-age children were missed at about three times the rate of those in the 10-to-14 age group. They are also more likely to be members of minority groups. American Indian children on reservations were more likely than any other ethnic group to be missed in the last census, the report says.

Children living in large households or in temporary arrangements may well be missed, the report says. The high rate of undercounting among African-American children--7 percent--may be related to the fact that 8 percent of all black children do not live with either parent, it says.

The states with the highest undercount rates-- at 4.5 percent--were Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Closely following were Georgia and South Carolina at 4.4 percent.

Mr. O'Hare also notes trends that might make the undercount problem even worse next year. For one, the percentage of children who are members of minority groups has grown, from 31 percent in 1990 to a projected 36 percent in 2000.

Second, more children live in regions of the country where the undercount rates historically have been the highest--the South and the West.

Maury Cagle, a spokesman for the U.S. Census Bureau, said officials are aware of the issue and hope changes they are making for the 2000 census will reduce the undercount.

"The Overlooked Undercount: Children Missed in the Decennial Census" is available online at t/census.pdf. It requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.

—Linda Jacobson [email protected]

Vol. 19, Issue 1, Page 7

Published in Print: September 8, 1999, as Children & Families

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