Seeking better data on Hispanics, Census Bureau may change how it asks about race

*Why you should read this: Because U.S. Latino identity is a story that never ends. Because the U.S. Census count is too important to get it wrong, again. Because I had an email exchange today with a Chicano activist from the 70’s-80’s who called himself Chicanosauri – and I loved that. VL


By D’Vera Cohn, Pew Research Center (5 minute read)  

Federal officials are considering major changes in how they ask Americans about their race and ethnicity, with the goal of producing more accurate and reliable data in the 2020 census and beyond. Recently released Census Bureau research underscores an important reason why: Many Hispanics, who are the nation’s largest minority group, do not identify with the current racial categories.

Census officials say this is a problem because in order to obtain good data, they need to make sure people can match themselves to the choices they are offered. Census data on race and Hispanic origin are used to redraw congressional district boundaries and enforce voting and other civil rights laws, as well as in a wide variety of research, including Pew Research Center studies.

After years of trying to persuade Hispanics to choose a standard race category, the Census Bureau has been testing a new approach, with what the agency says are promising results. In 2015, the bureau contacted 1.2 million U.S. households for a test census that experimented with two different ways of combining the Hispanic and race questions into one question (and included a proposed new “Middle Eastern or North African” category as well). Respondents could self-identify in as many categories as they wanted, or only one.

The result: More than 70% of self-identified Hispanics said they were Hispanic but did not choose a race in answering the combined question, and less than 1% checked the “some other race” box on the test census. By comparison, when race and Hispanic origin were asked in separate questions, only 8.4% of self-identified Hispanics checked the Hispanic origin box but did not provide a valid answer to the separate race question. A third (33.6%) checked “some other race” and another 35.5% checked two or more different race categories, among them “some other race.” (Only 0.1% of respondents were self-identified Hispanics who checked the proposed Middle Eastern/North African category in the separate or combined questions.)

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