US updates how it classifies people by race and ethnicity for first time in decades

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The federal government updated the way it classifies people by race and ethnicity for the first time in more than a quarter-century, aiming to better capture an increasingly diverse country and give policymakers a more insightful view. full account of the impacts of his work on Americans.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget announced Thursday that it would combine questions about race and ethnicity on federal forms and encourage people to select multiple options, if applicable. The government will also add “Middle East or North Africa” (ORE) as a new category for the combined question, which will include seven options in total.

The changes mark the first time since 1997 that OMB has revised a policy on federal collection of such data.

“This is truly a momentous day,” said Meeta Anand, senior director of census and data equity at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a national coalition of more than 200 civil rights groups. The combined question, she added, is “one of the biggest changes we’ve ever seen.”

Karin Orvis, chief statistician of the United States, he said in a Thursday blog post on the White House website that the review “will improve our ability to compare information and data across federal agencies, and also to understand how well federal programs serve a diverse America.”

The changes are expected to appear on a variety of federal data collection forms, including census surveys the government sends out every 10 years. They will also be reflected in the American Community Survey, which is conducted more regularly and includes more questions.

This data guides how federal officials analyze everything from health care outcomes to redrawing congressional districts.

The revised rules take effect immediately, although agencies have 18 months to design plans to comply with them and five years to implement them.

The Census Bureau said in a statement which “commends the scientific integrity and collaboration” that led to the new standards.

The process that led to these changes began in June 2022, when Orvis convened a working group of career staff from 35 federal government agencies. The group received more than 20,000 public comments and held 94 listening sessions.

“As a society, we cannot adequately ensure equal rights and protection for all if we are not able to adequately identify those affected by overt and covert discrimination through systemic biases in the first place,” reads a comment from an Egyptian-American lawyer who agreed with the new MENA category.

Momentum toward change has been building for a long time, although it slowed during Donald Trump’s presidency. His administration sought to include a citizenship question in the 2020 Census, a move that the Supreme Court blocked.

Advocates have especially pushed for a combined question on race and ethnicity, and research shows that separate questions have made it harder to collect data among Latino respondents.

“Since many Latinos do not see themselves in any of the racial categories by current standards, a large proportion (nearly 44 percent) select ‘Some other race’ or skip the race question altogether,” said the Anand group last year in a paper outlining their case for a combined question.

The 2020 Census marked the first time “Some Other Race” rose to second largest racial group in the U.S.

“That means we had a lot of people who didn’t see themselves on the forms,” ​​Anand said.

The Arab American Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates for Arab Americans, called the revised standards a “major achievement.”

“The new Standards will have a lasting impact on communities for generations to come, particularly Arab Americans, whose elimination in federal data collection will finally cease,” the institute’s executive director, Maya Berry, said in a statement.

At the same time, Berry said the institute has “deep concerns” that Arab Americans continue to be undercounted because the new “Middle Eastern or North African” category does not fully capture the diversity of those groups.

Among those who had pushed for a MENA category was Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat representing Michigan, which has a large Arab-American population. Peters said in a statement that the changes “will help finally count Arab Americans as a distinct community, so the government can ensure this community receives the resources and support they need.”

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