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Report: Potential 2020 Census Undercount Could Harm Florida Children

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Annie E. Casey Foundation
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Following statewide expansions of insurance programs, more kids than ever have access to health care, according to the latest Florida Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

But the report’s authors are concerned that could change if children are undercounted in the 2020 census.

Norin Dollard, Director of Florida Kids Count, said if proper counts are not made, it'll result in overcrowded classrooms, shuttered Head Start programs, understaffed hospital emergency rooms - and more kids without health care.

"It is what is used by the federal government to determine resources that come to the state,” Dollard said. “So children's health insurance, Medicaid; there's foster care funds tied to that, child care dollars, Head Start."

The 2010 U.S. Census failed to count almost 1 million children younger than age 5. Dollard said decennial census also historically undercounts children of color, as well as kids in low-income and immigrant families.

The 2020 census will determine how much federal funding states and localities receive each year for the next decade. Plus, the census is used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and to draw legislative districts at other levels of government.

“If we don’t count children, we render their needs invisible and their futures uncertain,” said Casey Foundation President and CEO Patrick McCarthy in a news release.

In the last five years, the state has increased health insurance coverage of children from 87 percent to 94 percent.

But Dollard said more work needs to be done to match Massachusetts - ranked first overall in the report compared to other states - which insures 99 percent of its children.

"We would have to insure 215,295 more kids to achieve that,” Dollard said. “What would that take, Florida? How would we do that?"

Florida scored - overall – 34th when compared against other states in four categories: health, education, economic well-being, and family and community.

“It’s election season,” Dollard said. “I hope that people will take it to their school board, take it to their local candidates and say, ‘What is it you’re committed to doing for our kids?’”

The report breaks the data down not only county by county, but by House and Senate districts, too.

Other highlights from the report:

42 in Economic Well-Being. “For the first time in several years, there have been some significant inroads into reducing child poverty and improvements in parents’ ability to get full employment. However, many families struggle to make ends meet, and 39 percent of children live in households that spend roughly a third or more of their monthly incomes on housing, which reduces discretionary spending on children and the amount of time available to parents to spend with their children.”

• 24 in Education. “Florida is also above the national average for preschool enrollment, and notable gains have been achieved in third-grade reading, an important predictor of academic success. The Florida Department of Education recently announced that when the Nation’s Report Card (National Assessment of Educational Progress) was released in April, Florida was the only state to have improved significantly on three of the four NAEP education measures in 2017. The largest improvement was found in High School Students graduating on time.”

• 34 in Health. The observed improvements in getting Florida’s children covered is substantial and efforts to continue to expand access to healthcare is much needed. Florida lags behind the national average in three of the four indicators of the health domain. More investments in programs are needed to reduce the number of low birth-weight babies, child and teen deaths, and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs.”

• 34 in Family and Community. “There were improvements in two of the four indicators in this domain. Florida’s teen birth rate continues to fall and resources that support evidence-based pregnancy prevention programs need to continue. Although the number of children living in poverty statewide has started to decrease, the number of children living in concentrated poverty was unchanged over the five-year window. To address these issues, continued emphasis is needed to expand educational and vocational supports for Florida’s parents so families can thrive.”

Copyright 2018 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.
Daylina Miller
Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.