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Economic Justice for All: How to Stop Undercounting N.C.’s Latino Children

North Carolina’s estimated $16 billion in federal funding is at stake in the 2020 census, which will take place just one year from now.

Counting everyone, from the state’s youngest to our oldest, will ensure we bring the most federal money back to our communities to fund vital programs. This also means that North Carolina will have the appropriate representation in Congress, since U.S. House seats are allocated according to decennial census data.

However, an accurate census will depend on convincing parents of very young Latinos to complete a census form.

According to a report from NC Child and NALEO Educational Fund, “The Statewide Implications of Undercounting Latino Children,” there is a higher percentage of young Latino children in hard-to-count populations:

  • Children under 5

  • Racial and ethnic minorities

  • Linguistic minorities

  • Low-income families

  • Migrant families

Failure to accomplish a complete and accurate census in 2020 will hurt all North Carolinians, but especially children.

According to the report, an undercount would hurt the estimated 300 federal programs that rely on data derived from the decennial census. About $9.2 billion of the state’s $16 billion in federal funds is determined through the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, which will be based in part on the 2020 census and will determine how much we receive to administer these major programs that support children and families:

  • Medical Assistance Program (Medicaid)

  • State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

  • Title IV-E Foster Care

  • Title IV-E Adoption Assistance

  • Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF)

While Medicaid also supports adults, two-thirds of its enrollees in North Carolina are children.

To demonstrate what’s at stake for the general population, the report’s authors calculated that after the 2010 census, for every 1% of residents undercounted, North Carolina lost $94 million. This means a loss of general funding to Medicare Part B payments, and highway planning and construction for example.

While Latinos make up about 10% of the state’s population, they account for about 18% of the children under 5. Nationwide in the 2010 census, the “undercount” rate for young Latino children was nearly double that of young children overall. An estimated 25,000 young children in North Carolina were missed that year; a third were Latino. This time around, that number will be higher because the young Latino population has grown in North Carolina. In 1999, they made up 7.3% of children under 5; by 2017 that number was estimated at 17.8%, or 108,376.

They accounted for 40% of North Carolina’s children in poverty under 5.

Very young Latinos are most likely to live in hard-to-count census tracts with a high proportion of renter and multi-unit buildings. Units may include multiple families and multiple generations living in subdivided rental units and shared households, including garages, where the adults are most likely to be poor and have difficulty speaking or understanding English.

While participants will be able to respond by mail, phone or enumerator, emphasis will be placed on completing the form online. This further complicates participation for people living in poverty with limited internet access and poor English skills.

Consequently, residents may avoid filling out a census form due to the perceived complexity. Also, Census Bureau research indicates that Latinos are more likely than others to believe that the purpose of the census is to collect information about adults, but not children.

Finally, while most Latinos in North Carolina are U.S.-born (59%), there remains many other Latinos who may not trust a U.S. government questionnaire with their personal information, particularly if the census contains a citizenship status question. While the courts have yet to determine whether or not citizenship data will be collected, the fear of deportation remains an issue in census participation.

Decreased federal funding for the 2020 census resulted in reduction in the number of field offices and staffing for communication and partnership activities in the Latino community, plus cuts in field tests, particularly in Puerto Rico. This could contribute to an inaccurate count of young Latino children.

NC Child and the NALEO Educational Fund recommend the federal government fully fund the 2020 census and North Carolina appropriate $1 million for an aggressive, multi-pronged outreach plan. This means promoting Census participation through Complete Count Committees that would increase awareness among parents of young Latinos through a variety of trusted community sources carrying the same message in a “surround sound” approach, whether it be from businesses, health care providers, schools, day care providers or other community organizations. Other states have taken this important step. It’s not too late for North Carolina to do the same.

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