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Federal Race, Hispanic Ethnicity Data Collection Proposals Up for Comment

A combined race and Hispanic ethnicity question and new Middle Eastern North African race category headline the proposed standards.

The way the federal government collects information on race and ethnicity hasn’t changed since 1997. However, those rules are now under review and changes could be coming to instruments used to collect and report data about race and ethnicity, including the 2030 Census.

A federal register notice with initial proposals from a multi-agency federal working group was posted in late January. Comments on the proposal are due April 12, 2023

At the heart of the proposal is a recommendation to collect race and Hispanic ethnicity data using a single, combined question on Census and other federal forms.

Figure 1: Current OMB standards require that a minimum of five race categories follow a question about Hispanic or Latino ethnicity when individuals use a self-response questionarie. A  new proposal combines the two questions.

Currently, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) mandates that federal agencies collect separate responses about race and ethnicity (Figure 1). Typically, these are presented as:

  • Are you Hispanic or Latino?
  • What is your race? (Race is selected from a minimum of five race categories)

This is not the first time that such a proposal has been contemplated.

Initially, a single race/ethnicity question had been proposed for use in testing prior to the 2020 Census, but in 2018 the Bureau announced that plans to proceed with a combined question had been dropped to remain in accordance with the 1997 OMB directive.

The working group’s new proposals include several other measures such as:

  • Addition of Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) as a new reporting category; MENA respondents are currently considered White
  • Recommendations to develop methods to bridge older race/ethnicity data to the new standards
  • Implementation guidelines and timelines to standardize the use of the new categories across census, administrative forms and surveys

Why is a combined question about Hispanic race and ethnicity proposed?

For many respondents, separate questions about race and ethnicity are confusing because they can be viewed as similar or even identical constructs.

In the 2020 Census, this appeared to be the case for most Hispanic and Latino respondents.

The category of “Some Other Race” alone or in combination grew to represent more than 15 percent of the U.S. population in the 2020 Census, becoming the country’s second-largest racial group. That same Census Bureau analysis of 2020 Census responses showed that Hispanics and Latinos made up a large portion of the Some Other Race group:

  • 45.3 million people of Hispanic or Latino origin were classified as “Some Other Race” either alone or in combination, compared with only 4.6 million people who were not of Hispanic or Latino origin
  • 9 percent of people who classified themselves as “Some Other Race” alone on their Census forms were of Hispanic or Latino origin

The Bureau also noted an increased rate of item non-response to the race question by people self-identifying as Hispanic or Latino.

Changes Could Follow for State and Local Agencies

The working group’s final recommendations are planned for release in mid-2024 and the OMB’s decision on whether to adopt them would follow that. In 1997, the OMB rejected several recommendations by a similar working group but adopted a series of others that remain in use today including:

  • Multi-race option which allowed for the selection of two or more race categories
  • Separating the Asian or Pacific Islander race category into separate categories for “Asian” and ‘‘Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander”
  • Specification of the order in which questions about Hispanic or Latino origin and race were asked

For now, implementation details are limited, but individual federal agencies would be required to incorporate new procedures that OMB accepts.

That could lead to eventual changes to state and local government procedures involving the collection of race and ethnicity data and reporting requirements to federal agencies.

For more information, visit the website to learn more about standards and to submit comments.