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Politics and Government

For Colorado’s diversifying population of children, advocates fear a census undercount

The annual Kids Count report says counties with high rates of poverty and non-white children are most at risk of not being counted accurately

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In 13 years, children of color are expected to make up a majority of Colorado’s kids, part of a trend that advocates for children fear makes the state especially vulnerable to a census undercount of its littlest residents.

That could mean as much as $193 million in unrealized federal funding for programs in Colorado that benefit children, according to one estimate. And a separate report raises an alarm about how an undercount would affect political representation and official decision-making.

“We only have one chance every 10 years to get the census right; if Colorado kids are undercounted in the 2020 census, communities across the state will suffer the consequences for the next decade,” the Colorado Children’s Campaign stated in its annual Kids Count report, released Wednesday.

The concerns feed into larger fears about the impacts of a census undercount in Colorado. But advocates for kids say they, especially, have reason to worry. Children under 5 are the most-undercounted group, according to the Children’s Campaign, and the organization cites research showing that the 2010 census missed as many as 18,000 kids in Colorado.

On top of that, children who are from minority groups, from families where English is not the primary language or from families living in poverty are even more likely not to be counted, according to the Kids Count report. About one in eight Colorado kids lives in poverty, the lowest level since 2002, the report states.

Two other figures in the report show how the state’s young population is diversifying.

Almost one in four children live in a family where at least one parent was born outside the United States. And, by 2032, the majority of Colorado’s kids will be non-white.

Children of color already make up the majority of kids in 14 counties in Colorado, according to the Kids Count report. Those include counties in southern Colorado and the San Luis Valley with traditionally large Hispanic populations. But they also include Morgan County on the northeastern plains, Adams County in the metro area and Lake County in the central mountains.

Combining all of these factors together, the Children’s Campaign identified a state-spanning list of nine counties most at risk of an undercount: Costilla, Alamosa, Denver, Rio Grande, Morgan, Crowley, Adams, Prowers and Saguache.

“Every one of these communities already had a higher-than-average child poverty rate as of 2017,” Sarah Hughes, the Children’s Campaign’s vice president of research initiatives, said in a statement. “If young kids in these counties are undercounted in the 2020 census, their communities face losing federal funding for programs that are vital to kids for the next decade — which would only make it harder for families to make ends meet and build a strong foundation for their children.”

The Kids Count report argues an undercount would mean that policymakers have bad data when making decisions that affect kids and that a big-enough undercount could deny Colorado from adding an eighth congressional district. But there would also be impacts to the state budget.

Writing in an op-ed for The Denver Post, two analysts from the Colorado Health Institute earlier this year estimated that the 2020 undercount could cost Colorado’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Plan Plus programs $16 million annually in missed federal revenue. The national group Child Trends has estimated an even bigger toll for state health and human services programs as a whole — anywhere from $48 million to $193 million annually specifically as a result of an undercount of Hispanic residents in Colorado.

This has the Children’s Campaign and other advocates working to promote census participation in the coming year. A bill passed in the state legislature this year made $6 million in grants available to organizations to help reach hard-to-count communities.

Summing up the Children’s Campaign’s urgency on the topic, Hughes said: “The census is a kids’ issue.”

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