Census Bureau Considers Changing Its Race, Hispanic Questions

Aug 07, 2012

The Census Bureau presents new research tomorrow that attempts to address the frequent mismatch between Americans’ self-identity and the race or Hispanic categories they are offered on their census questionnaires. The issue is especially important for counting Hispanics, the nation’s largest minority group.

Currently, Americans are asked separate questions about origin and race. The 2010 Census form first asked people whether they are of Hispanic origin (and, if so, which origin). Then, all respondents were asked to check one or more of the boxes assigned to the five race categories (white, black, American Indian, Asian, or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander). The form noted, “For this census, Hispanic origins are not races.” The race and Hispanic origin categories are set by the Office of Management and Budget, and the last major revision was in 1997.

But these categories do not always match people’s ideas of who they are. Despite the Census Bureau’s hopes that respondents would select from the offered race categories, more than 19 million people in the 2010 Census chose a catch-all category, “some other race.” The number and share of the population choosing “some other race” grew since the 2000 Census.

Most of those who chose “some other race” were Hispanic. This mismatch between the categories and the choices that Hispanics make on their census forms is growing in part because the Hispanic population is increasing rapidly. Yet government officials want people to choose from the offered categories because they are widely used, not just on the census form, but also in many federal surveys, on government forms such as school registrations, and in scientific research. Race data collected in the census are used to support enforcement of civil rights laws and redistricting of congressional districts.

Read the full report, Census Bureau Considers Changing Its Race/Hispanic Questions, on the Pew Social & Demographic Trends website.

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