Census 101: The 2020 Census and Why it Matters for Children's Health

Census 101: The 2020 Census and Why it Matters for Children's Health

The once-per-decade count aids in deciding how federal funds are allocated in the coming years, including programs that support the pediatric population.

The decennial census, the once-every-decade population and housing count of all 50 states, takes place early next year. The U.S. Census Bureau will provide critical data to determine how and where federal funds will be distributed for years—including state and local programs that support the health and well-being of children. The data also will help children's hospitals better understand and care for the populations they serve.

Children's Hospitals Today will feature a series of stories looking at the 2020 Census to examine:

  • The census itself, including a timeline of events and what to expect.
  • Why the census is so important to children, families, communities and children's hospitals.
  • The trend of undercounting kids in the census and why that matters, including:
    • How and why children are typically undercounted.
    • How the undercount affects children's hospitals and pediatric health care overall.
    • What some organizations, and the Census Bureau, are doing to help get an accurate count of kids.
    • What children's hospitals can do to encourage parents and families to participate in the census.

About the census

  • The U.S. Constitution requires a count of America's population be taken each decade.
  • There are many census products, including the American Community Survey (ACS) —an ongoing national survey—and the upcoming decennial survey. Children's hospitals use census data for everything from research and quality improvement to needs assessments and staffing decisions.
  • Every year, the federal government distributes hundreds of billions of dollars to states and localities based on census data, including funds for new roads, schools and emergency services—and for programs that children's hospitals and families rely on, including Medicaid; Head Start; Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and others.
  • For the first time, people can respond to the census online (as well as by phone or mail).Federal law protects the confidentiality of all individual responses the Census Bureau collects. 

2020 Census timeline: What to expect

  • March 2020: Mailings begin, including letters with a paper questionnaire and inviting people to take the survey online.
  • Census Day: April 1, 2020.
  • May through July: Follow-up with non-respondents.
  • Apportionment counts sent to the President by Dec. 31, 2020.

Children's Hospitals Today census series: What's coming

  • The cover story of the spring issue of Children's Hospitals Today magazine addresses the decennial census and the issue of undercounting kids in depth.
  • Look out for future stories in the weekly newsletter on the census and what it means to children's hospitals and the populations they serve.

Preview an upcoming story in the series: Kids are undercounted

Children have been undercounted in the census for decades, leaving states and localities with less support than they deserve. The 2010 Census missed about 2.2 million children ages 0 to 4, according to William O'Hare, Ph.D., a demographer and consultant with a focus on children.

"So many of the kids we see in our clinical settings rely on public benefits and public support that have their origin in accurate census data," says Andrew Beck, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. "Without an accurate headcount, I'd be concerned that supports for programs and resources our patients rely on would be inadequate."

Find more information on the 2020 Census.

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