Pennsylvania, 17th in Childhood Well-Being, Is at Risk for a Census Miscount

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Pennsylvania ranks 17th in the nation for childhood well-being, according to the 2018 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, recently released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Although Pennsylvania has made some gains in education and health, the state continues to struggle with economic well-being. Nineteen percent of Pennsylvania children live in poverty—a statistic that remains unchanged from 2010. Other areas of concern include children who live in high-poverty areas (12 percent of Pennsylvania kids) and young children who are not in school (53 percent of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds).

“Our hope is that folks use the data to identify where the biggest needs are and to advocate on behalf of kids,” said Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “We really believe in the power of data, and the importance of looking at this information at the national and local levels.”

Now in its 29th year, the Data Book uses 16 indicators to rank states in four key areas: education, health, economic well-being, and family and community. On the national level, gains have been made across all four categories. A stronger economy has helped more parents secure stable employment, rise out of poverty, and spend a smaller proportion of their incomes on housing.

However, the 2018 Data Book also issued a warning: About 4.5 million U.S. children under 5 live in areas at risk of being undercounted in the 2020 census. Each year, census data are used to allocate over $800 billion of state and local money to over 300 federal programs. “A lot of that spending is focused on children,” Speer said. “Folks who work with kids know how important it is on a local level to make sure the census doesn’t miss anyone.”

In Pennsylvania, about 104,000 young kids live in hard-to-count census tracts, such as neighborhoods with high poverty rates and a large proportion of multiunit buildings and rental housing. Those most at risk of being undercounted include children of color; children living in low-income, highly mobile, or homeless families; and children of immigrant families, particularly households without an adult fluent in English. Not incidentally, these children are also most in need of the very programs and services for which census data are used to allocate funding, including Head Start, children’s health care, and school lunches.

Infrastructure decisions, like how many schools or childcare centers should be built, also rely on census data. The Casey Foundation predicts that an undercount will lead to problems like overcrowded classrooms, understaffed hospital emergency rooms, and inadequate resources to serve kids and families. And other states have it worse than Pennsylvania. For instance, 43 percent of New York’s young kids—over half a million children under 5—are at risk of going uncounted.

The undercount of children has gotten worse with every census since 1980. But this time around, the data will be collected online, a big change that raises new concerns about internet access and information privacy. According to the Casey Foundation, funding for state and local outreach programs to get parents on board will be critical to maximizing the count and making sure no child is left behind.

“We believe that everybody, including every kid, has the right to be counted and represented,” Speer said. “This is our one shot to get it right.”

Pennsylvania Fast Facts

  • 15 percent of kids under 5 live in hard-to-count census tracts.
  • 27 percent of kids have parents who lack secure employment.
  • 4 percent of kids do not have health insurance.
  • 60 percent of fourth graders are not proficient in reading.
  • 62 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in math.

For more information, visit the KIDS COUNT Data Center.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.