Kentucky’s Stake in the 2020 Census

Published 9:19 am Monday, December 18, 2017

By Rebecca Tucker

Everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten and pre-school: take turns, be kind, share, honesty — especially honesty.

High quality early childhood education is a crucial building block for future success. However, low-income children often have less access due to cost and availability. Programs like Head Start or Early Head Start were created to help these children prepare for school, but also to help low-income families balance childcare and employment.

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States receive funding based on the number of low-income mothers and children, and those numbers come from the U.S. Census.

Each year, the federal government takes a portion of our tax dollars and funds 16 key programs that support children from disadvantaged families, including the National School Lunch program, Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid, Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG), Head Start and Early Head Start.

The results of the 2020 Census are likely to help guide the allocation of more than $9 billion in federal spending for those program in Kentucky each year, according to the study “Counting for Dollars,” led by Professor Andrew Reamer of George Washington University.

But Kentucky will miss out if our residents are undercounted. Nearly 10 percent of Kentuckians live in what are considered “hard to count” areas and could be missed by a lackluster census count. This figure rises to more than 19 percent for Hispanics and 22 percent for African-Americans.

Regrettably, children ages 0-4 are at a higher risk of being undercounted than other ages. The Census Bureau estimates more than 7,500 young children in Kentucky were not counted in the 2010 census, a number that could affect program dollars coming to Kentucky if we allow it to happen again.

The census is more than a head count, though. The Framers of the Constitution intended it to ensure the fair allocation of political power. Population data from the census are used for the reapportionment of congressional seats and the redistricting of Kentucky’s state and local government political districts.

Just as importantly, census data are used in civil rights and voting rights enforcement. The information is used to protect access to the ballot, to monitor discrimination and to examine economic equality.

However, the 2020 Census is at risk. Our nation’s policymakers have severely underfunded preparations for the 2020 Census by hundreds of millions of dollars.

I am a data analyst with an education nonprofit serving Appalachia. My team and I recognize that a few data points cannot tell a whole, human story. Instead we see data as a tool that helps us begin to understand a school, community or region. I use all kinds of information to try and figure out the difference our work makes, and I have to know the baseline. Census data provides a consistent data source across all the communities we serve. The Census gives me a baseline.

As an advocate for the future of Kentucky and someone who uses data every day, I encourage you to act.

The Trump administration recently asked Congress to increase funding for the Census Bureau in 2018 by $187 million. Analysis leads me and my allies to believe the necessary increase is closer to $400 million to get started in outreach, partnership and testing of new operations that hope to ensure a complete, fair and accurate count.

The Census is a massive undertaking, involving more than a decade of planning, elaborate tests of new counting methods, extensive outreach to a more diverse and mobile population, and hiring a temporary workforce of more than half a million to contact those who fail to self-respond.

I encourage readers to contact their senators and representatives in Washington, D.C. now, before the final 2018 funding bill is considered this month. Our commonwealth has too much at stake for the next decade to ignore this issue.

Rebecca Tucker lives in Madison County and is a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.