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Latino children (400K) not counted
(Photo courtesy: El Hogar del Nino Facebook)
By James Mejia
As the daughter of missionaries, Yeris Mayol-García remembers vividly what it felt like moving to a different city every couple of years; new schools, new language and trying to make new friends. This memory as a migrant fuels her desire to improve the life experience for immigrants to the United States. As a demographer, Mayol-García is deeply committed to using research and statistics in service to others, specifically, young Latinos.

When Mayol-García met Bill O’Hare in the 2000’s, O’Hare was working on a fellowship at the United States Census Bureau trying to understand and document the undercount of children across the country. For an undergrad anthropology and demography major working at the Census Bureau, Mayol-García shared his interest in the undercount and wanted to find the ramifications for Latino children. When they reconnected years later at the Population Association of America conference in San Diego, the idea of co-authoring a paper about undercounting Latino children was born.

Their report, ‘The Invisible Ones: How Latino Children Are Left Out of Our Nation’s Census Count’ is a close look at how undercounting Latino children has had a dramatic impact on allocating local, state and federal resources. The bottom line: nearly 400,000 Latino children ages 0-4 were not counted in the 2010 Census. The undercounted population is concentrated in the urban centers of five states – Arizona, California, Florida, New York and Texas. Nearly one-third of undercounted Latino children live in the densest California counties – Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernadino and San Diego. Some of the biggest cities in the biggest states are most impacted by the undercount.

According to Mayol-García, “In Colorado seven percent of Latino children or 8,000 kids were missed in the count. The majority of those children reside in Denver and other urban areas.”

Undercount implications

More than $400 billion in federal funding is sent to the states to benefit children’s programs. Head Start for low-income early education and block grants for Maternal and Child Health Services and Child Care and Development are allocated based on population assessment provided by the Unites States Census. The authors underscore that almost one-fourth of all U.S. children under the age of 5 are Latino and two-thirds of those children live in poverty. By miscounting young Latinos, some of the children most in need of resources are denied services because of the undercount.

Besides the critical issue of allocating the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, the ten-year Census count or decennial determines federal investment in local services including hospitals, job training centers, transportation projects and emergency services. In essence, the report shows that dense, Latino-populated city centers across the country are not allocated their fair share of federal resources or representation.

Why are Latino children undercounted?

The Census Bureau is tasked with counting the U.S. population every ten years through Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution: ‘The actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of 10 years, in such manner as they shall by Law direct.’ The undercount has less to do with devious motives and more to do with resource allocation and methodology according to Mayol-García. “As someone who worked at Census, I was surrounded by people who were very committed to getting the count right. However, an accurate count is a matter of having the resources to do so, and not only counting correctly, but researching better ways to count and communication with the public on why responding to the Census survey is so important.”

The U.S. Census has a term for households they haven’t been able to count accurately – ‘hard-to-reach’ areas. Mayol-García notes that Latino children are more likely to reside in these areas, “Latinos have a greater tendency to live in harder to count areas with higher mobility and harder to count families.” She points out that many Latino families look different than what might be expected, “A growing number of households might be grandparents living with their kids and their families, the number of people living in the household might not be allowed by zoning, there may be documentation concerns and the large number of family members might require extra work in requesting an additional form.” All these factors lead to an undercount and the study’s authors recognize that the first step in improving the Census count is bringing attention to the issue.

O’Hare and Mayol-García’s team used the previous census from 2010 as a baseline and applied a different methodology to count the children’s population than is typically used at Census. Vital statistics such as the birth rate and migration patterns helped the team come up with their more accurate interim estimates.

Besides a more precise count, the authors also encourage increased research to pinpoint why the undercount is happening and want to promote highly targeted outreach focusing on concentrations of Latino children in the meantime. “Census 2020 will change for the better – more focused outreach and a web-based census might solve many questionnaire issues,” notes Mayol-García.

For the report, O’Hare and Mayol-García were joined by Elizabeth Wildsmith, Ph.D., and Alicia Torres, Ph.D., of Child Trends, a non-profit organization using research, communication and education to improve the lives of children in the United States. Child Trends’ Hispanic Institute, the National Association of Latino Appointed and Elected Officials, Heising-Simons Foundation and The Annie E. Casey Foundation, collaborated to support the study.

At the U.S. Census Bureau headquarters on April 12, Census officials offered insight into plans for the 2020 decennial count. As a demonstration of the seriousness of the issue of undercounting Latino children, the topic was first on the agenda. Listening closely was one Yeris Mayol-García. The soon-to-be Ph.D. from Penn State sums it up best, “It’s important to have an accurate census because it’s a fair one. This is just one way of trying to help make this world a better one.” Looks like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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