To count all kids, Census Bureau should improve the count of adults with low literacy 


December 7, 2023

Ensuring a fair and accurate Census is important for a variety of reasons. First, political entities from school boards and city councils to state legislatures use the decennial Census count to draw political districts, all the way up to Congress. 

Second, Census numbers drive funding decisions – if a particular community or neighborhood is undercounted, that geographic entity can miss out on funding, not just for a year or two but for an entire decade until the next count occurs. The distribution of as much as $1 trillion in federal funds is driven by the Census Bureau’s findings.  

Third, policy-makers – and even the private sector – use Census data to make decisions about how to allocate resources. For example, a large grocery chain may use the data to decide where to open a new store. 

For decades, the Census overall has been getting better and better at counting people. But there are exceptions. For instance, while the overall accuracy of the count has improved, children increasingly have been undercounted, as have some people of color populations. 

For this reason, CHN is one of four organizations that formed and continues to lead Count All Kids, a national coalition of child-serving organizations that is working to improve the count of young children in the Census. CHN also works closely with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ Census Task Force to improve the counts by race and ethnicity. 

Partly to improve the count of young children, CHN recently urged the Census Bureau to study how it can better count low-literacy adults. In a letter to a Census Bureau advisory committee, CHN noted that, according to a recent Department of Education study, 37 million adults in the U.S. lack literacy proficiency in English and another 11 million lack the ability to be tested for reasons such as language barriers. Another 66 million have higher skills but could struggle with complex documents. 

“We…believe the Bureau must conduct significant research on how to count people with low literacy skills,” CHN wrote. “Improving the count of people with low literacy skills should help improve the count of children because young children are more likely to be missed when in communities with large shares of people who do not have a high school degree or GED.” 

CHN said future research should cover at least three areas: where and when people with low literacy skills get information, what messages would get them to respond and assure them that response is not burdensome, and what method of response they prefer and are most likely to use. 

Meanwhile, next week, CHN is hosting a webinar entitled Making Your Case:  The Advocate’s Guide to Using American Community Survey Data. The webinar will be 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, December 13. 

The webinar will explain how advocates can use American Community Survey data to make their case for supporting human needs programs. It will focus on how to find the state and local data advocates need, and how advocates have used the data effectively to defend and promote key programs. It will also describe threats by some in Congress to undermine the American Community Survey. 

Speakers will include Deborah Stein, Senior Consultant at CHN; Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director at CHN; and Kelly Hoffman, Vice President of Data and Strategy at PA Partnerships for Children. Meeta Anand, Senior Director, Census & Data Equity at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, will moderate the forum.  

You can register for the webinar here.