The federal government is taking preliminary steps to revise racial and ethnic classifications on census and survey forms for the first time in a quarter century after calls for more precise categories of how people identify themselves in data collection. federal data.
The revisions could open the door to changes long desired by advocates. Among them are a new category for people of Middle Eastern and North African descent who are currently classified as White and efforts to make the categories less confusing for Hispanic participants.
The US chief statistician said in a blog post Wednesday that her office was launching a formal review of race and ethnicity classifications maintained by the Office of Management and Budget, which were first described in 1977 and they have not been reviewed since 1997.
The purpose of any changes to the standards will be to better reflect the diversity of the US, said Karin Orvis, the chief statistician, who was appointed to the job by the Biden administration earlier this year.
The review will conclude in the summer of 2024 after receiving input from government experts from all agencies and public comment, according to the chief statistician. That date would be months before a presidential election that could lead to a halt to any review if there is a change of administration. The push to change the classifications grew in the years leading up to the 2020 census, but stalled after then-President Donald Trump took office in 2017.
“I understand the importance of moving quickly and with purpose,” Orvis said. “It’s also important that we get it right.”
In addition to helping provide a snapshot of the demographic makeup of the US, the categories are used to enforce civil rights, voting rights, and employment discrimination laws. Under current classifications, race and Hispanic origin are separate categories on census forms and surveys.
Some advocates have been pushing to combine questions about race and Hispanic origin, saying the way race is categorized often confuses Hispanic respondents who aren’t sure how to answer. Tests conducted by the Census Bureau on the 2010 census showed that combining the questions produced higher response rates.
The need to change current standards can be seen in the 2020 census results in which the “some other race” category surpassed African Americans as the second largest racial group in the country. The “some other race” category was made up mostly of Latinos, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the NALEO Educational Fund.
“Right now, the Census Bureau knows that the way it collects data is fundamentally flawed. It is confusing and distorts the true nature of our nation’s diversity,” Vargas said. “For the Latino population, the current construction is flawed when it comes to Latinos being able to identify as Latino and by race category.”
Advocates have also been pushing for a Middle East and North Africa category, also known as MENA, for the once-a-decade census and other federal demographic surveys. The Census Bureau recommended adding a MENA category to the 2020 census form, but the Trump administration dropped the idea.
Several members of the US House of Representatives equated the lack of a MENA category with “the prolonged removal of a group of our fellow Americans” in a letter this week to Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young. , and the director of the Census Bureau, Robert Santos.
“OMB standards determine how our political institutions allocate material resources, political representation, and research funding,” the letter from 18 House Democrats, including Michigan U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only American, said. Palestinian in Congress. “These resources are vital components of the growth and development of any minority community, particularly those that experience historical barriers in meeting their basic needs and accessing support.”
Meanwhile, Asian communities have also called for more nuanced details. Lumping Asians into a single race category masks wide variations between different Asian groups, according to proponents.
For many civil rights groups, updating the categories has been a priority for years.
“We have been calling for urgency on this matter,” Vargas said. “We are encouraged that we are seeing some movement.”
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