US Census may have missed 400,000 Hispanic kids

In a recent comparison of Census Bureau data, researchers estimate that nearly 400,000 Hispanic children were not counted in the 2010 census.

It’s a problem that could lead to less political representation and the loss of funding for critical programs aimed at early childhood wellness, according to a recent report.

“An accurate census is a fair one.”

Investigators discovered the discrepancy in the count of Hispanic youth under the age of five after comparing the Census Bureau’s 2010 Decennial Census and the Vintage 2010 Population Estimates.

While there is no clear agreement on the reasons for the staggering undercount, researchers have identified several potential causes that they hope will start a discussion on how to enhance the accuracy of the next census.

The decennial census, a report based on counts of people at their usual place of residence, was compared against the vintage estimates, which provide annual estimates based on births, deaths, and migration. The researchers focused on data for April 1, 2010, by subtracting the Vintage Population Estimates for the Hispanic population aged 0-4 from the decennial census count of the same population to arrive at the difference between the two: 400,000—what they refer to as the “undercount.”

The 400,000 estimate is close to the entire population of the city of Portland, Oregon, according to Yeris Mayol-Garcia, a doctoral candidate at Penn State and coauthor of the report.

By using population statistics at the county level, the researchers also discovered that the undercount of young Hispanics was highly concentrated in counties within the states with the largest Hispanic populations in the US: California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, and New York.

Why it happened

Several factors may have led to this astonishing undercount, according to Mayol-Garcia. Hispanic children are concentrated in neighborhoods where it’s often difficult to count people, such as areas with a high proportion of renters.

Hispanic children also are more likely to live in complex families where several generations, and subfamilies may be present. In some cases, adults may not know children are meant to be included in the count and others may also be reluctant to participate in the census if one or more members of their household are undocumented.

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In their report, the researchers caution that more work is needed to understand why such a significant portion of the young Hispanic population was missed.

“In all likelihood, the undercount is a result of a combination of these factors,” Mayol-Garcia says.

The next round of the census

The next decennial census is slated for 2020, and may seem far off, but planning is already in the works. Mayol-Garcia believes additional steps to avoid undercounting need to be explored for implementation in the next round of the census; which includes more research and development of specific outreach campaigns.

Beginning outreach efforts early is key to developing networks that will reach households with young Hispanic children in time for the 2020 census. This outreach includes leveraging programs that already serve children, like the Woman Infant and Children Nutrition program (WIC), and encouraging health care providers and preschools to provide information to the families about the importance of making sure to include young children in the count.

Another route to explore for the future census is to improve the phrasing of questions concerning 1- to 4-years-olds, since a similar technique improved the undercount for children under the age of 1. “An accurate census is a fair one,” adds Mayol-Garcia.

Child Trends Hispanic Institute, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund supported the research.

Source: Penn State