The U.S. Census Bureau might drop the term ‘race’ in 2020

September 14, 2016

Did you know?, Government/Politics

The U.S. Census Bureau might drop the term ‘race’ in 2020
The agency is considering new ways of asking Americans what race and ethnicity they are

CBC News

As the United States becomes more diverse, its census bureau is trying to figure out how best to capture the changing face of the country. That could mean that the next time Americans fill out the census, they won’t check a box for their race.

This fall, the U.S. Census Bureau is testing different ways of asking Americans about their race, ethnicity and origin in advance of the next census in 2020. It could make some major changes as a result of what they find.

Nicholas Jones, director of race and ethnicity research at the census bureau, explained in an interview that a growing number of population groups think the current race and ethnic classification system is confusing or irrelevant to how they self-identify. The terms race, ethnicity, and origin mean different things to different people the bureau’s research shows.

The 2010 census asked respondents whether they were of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin. The next question asked respondents to choose from five broad race categories: white, black/African American/Negro, American Indian or Alaska native, Asian, native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. The census bureau does not consider Hispanic a race but rather an ethnicity.

“Some other race” was also a box on the last census and respondents could write in their response. About 19 million Americans used that option, the majority of them Hispanic.

The census bureau found that some population groups — Hispanics and people of mixed race, for example — were checking the “some other race” box because they didn’t identify with the five traditional race categories.

Some respondents didn’t answer the race question at all, making the non-response rate higher than the bureau would like to see.

In an effort to get better response rates, and the most accurate data possible on the makeup of the American population, the bureau is testing different wording in questionnaires put out this fall to about 1.2 million households.

‘Negro’ dropped from test forms

Some forms ask people what “race and origin” they are and others ask what “race and ethnicity” they are, followed by the five categories. Research to date has found that people are less confused when those terms are combined rather than asked separately.

Some test forms drop the “race” term completely and leave it wide open by asking: “Which categories describe you?”

Among the other variations on the test forms: they dropped the term “Negro,” they added a write-in space for the white and black race categories to get more detailed information such as Irish, German, Nigerian or Jamaican, and a new option “Middle Eastern or North African” was added on some forms.

Currently, those who identify as Middle Eastern or North African fall into the “white” racial category. The separate question being tested lists Syrian, Lebanese and Egyptian as examples for people who fall into that category.

In general, the testing questions allow for much greater flexibility. There are more write-in spaces within the five race categories and more checkboxes for each category so they can be broken down in more detail, such as the Middle Eastern and North African option.

The Asian category, for example, is followed by boxes where the respondent could check Chinese, Filipino, Asian Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, or Japanese.
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