COVID-19 Increases Likelihood of Further Underrepresentation of Young Children in the 2020 Census

This article is a part of an ongoing series that examines Equity During COVID-19 in early childhood and how this crisis impacts young children and families of color disproportionately in health, education, and geography across North Carolina. An introduction to the series can be found here.


In light of COVID-19, the United States Census, which aims to take a count of every resident living in the United States, has been extended from July 31, 2020 until October 31, 2020, to make necessary adjustments and accommodations to protect the health and safety of the public and Census employees, and also to ensure a complete and accurate count of all communities. Young children and communities of color are among the most traditionally undercounted populations.

Billions of dollars in federal funding to North Carolina each year depends on an accurate Census count. Children under the age of five are the age group most likely to be underrepresented with one in ten young children uncounted in the 2010 Census, and children ages five to nine are the second most undercounted group. When children are undercounted in the census — especially ones at high risk of being missed, such as children of color, children in linguistically isolated households, and children living in complex housing situations — it limits access to resources that states can provide, such as food assistance, Head Start, child care, housing support, public schools, and early intervention services for children with special needs. Not only are young children and communities of color historically undercounted in the Census, white people are often over-counted.

Currently, North Carolina is ranked 37th in the nation for self-responses (completion of Census online, by mail, or by phone) and has a 56.7 percent self-response which falls below the national average of 60.4 percent of U.S. Households that have responded to the 2020 Census.


The map above shows self-response rates from households in North Carolina. Source: 2020 US Census Bureau.

COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color – higher rates of infection and death, and economic fallout – making getting an accurate count within these communities an additional challenge. Historically undercounted groups are most likely to require in-person follow-up visits and are less likely to have internet access and less likely to be aware that the census is happening. Black, Latino, and Native American North Carolinians are more than ten percentage points less likely than Asian and white residents to live in a household with a broadband internet subscription. Libraries serve as a way for communities of color to access the internet, but they are closed for the foreseeable future, adding another barrier to getting an accurate Census count.

Some safeguards and resources created to bolster accurate Census data include:

  • Resuming field operations in phases based on COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the nation as it is safe to do so.
  • Employees are being trained and equipped to help keep everyone safe while fulfilling Constitutional mandate to count the U.S. population by providing face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizers for employees.
  • Field staff will complete a virtual COVID-19 training to ensure they follow appropriate social distancing protocols and all appropriate health and safety guidance.
  • The NC Complete Count Commission in partnership with the State Library of North Carolina created the NC Census Outreach & Engagement Toolkit that include messaging on the importance of counting young children.
  • NC Child created a census toolkit for childcare providers which includes resources such as 2020 Census Kit from Sesame Workshop and age-appropriate lessons and activities for children.

Help Make NC Count! If you or someone you know has not completed the census yet, complete it:

  • Online
  • By phone at 1-800-923-8282. Information on language support can be found here.
  • Via mail