Today in California, there are an estimated 210,000 children younger than 6 hiding in plain sight because they weren’t counted in the last U.S. Census. As a result, communities in our state missed out on a decade’s worth of crucial funding for programs to support them — programs that provide basic necessities like food, shelter and health care.

The census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and determines how billions of dollars of federal funding are distributed to each state every year for critical programs that families rely on every day. In 2010, the total undercount for children younger than 6 was 1 million — and California had the highest undercount of young children of any state.

Ensuring our youngest children are counted in the census has been a historic challenge. There is evidence that the undercount for this population has increased in recent decades, even as coverage for other age groups has improved. The 2010 census had a net undercount of 4.6 percent for young children.

Data from the California Department of Finance show that for every one person living in our state who is not counted in the census, the state loses an estimated $1,000 per year for 10 years. That means for the 210,000 children not counted in 2010, California lost an estimated $2.1 billion in federal funding.

Today, we are working to right that wrong. California leaders have invested an unprecedented $187 million in encouraging the hardest-to-count Californians to fill out the census form in 2020. In 2010, amid the Great Recession, California invested just $2 million in census outreach.

First 5 Association of California is proud to be one of more than 120 partners California has convened to achieve a complete and accurate count, the largest mobilization of partners in state history. Through our All Kids Count campaign, we’re bringing together California’s largest networks working with children ages 0 to 5 in California, including our Early Start and Women, Infants and Children program, to conduct outreach and education to families with young children.

First 5 county commissions across the state are partnering with school districts and food banks to distribute census materials to families with young children as part of existing food distribution programs. More families than ever are turning to these programs for essential fresh food and pantry items that aren’t readily available at the grocery store.

Given current public health concerns around gathering in person, we are focused on educating families about how they can respond to the census online at, by phone or by mail if they received a paper form.

Young children have the most to gain from a complete count in 2020: it is their future that this census will fund, and their representation that will be determined. That’s why it’s crucial that parents and guardians have the tools and information necessary to ensure our children are counted in 2020. We must ensure our youngest kids are counted and that they — and California’s future — thrive.

Kim Goll is the executive director of First 5 Orange County and president of the First 5 Association of California Executive Committee Board.

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