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Hispanic and Middle Eastern Race Categories Added in New Federal Rules

Two new race categories will appear on forms where race and ethnicity data are collected by federal agencies or state/local governments reporting to them.

Key Takeaways for Tennessee Data Users

  • Information about Hispanic or Latino origins will be asked in a combined question, rather than separately
  • A new Middle Eastern and North African race category will be added
  • Plans to transition to new race and ethnicity categories must be published by Sept. 28, 2025 and implemented by 2029
  • Work on tools to help data users bridge existing race and ethnicity data between 1997 and 2024 standards is underway
  • Visit for more detailed information

New standards guiding the collection and reporting of race and ethnicity data by federal agencies were released by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on March 28. The updated requirements increase the minimum number of race categories for which data must be collected on government forms and set a timeline for implementing changes to Statistical Policy Directive 15 (SPD15).

Two major changes headlined the revised mandate, which must be implemented within five years.

First, the requirements specify the use of a combined question about race and ethnicity. This change eliminates the 1997 standard that asked about people’s Hispanic or Latino origins separately from another question asking about their race. The division of race and Hispanic ethnicity had become increasingly problematic in the last two decennial censuses. Plans to combine the question were tested by the Census Bureau in 2015, but OMB ultimately shelved recommendations to change it and in 2018 it was announced they wouldn’t be added to 2020 Census response forms.

However results from the 2020 Census highlighted the fact that many respondents don’t draw the same distinctions between race and ethnicity. The population that was “Some Other Race” alone or in combination became the nation’s second-largest race group in 2020. More detailed results published in 2023 show that 91 percent of “Some Other Race” responses came from people identifying as Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. This made it clear that OMB’s separation of race from Hispanic ethnicity was no longer an effective delineation.

The second major change outlined in the new rules was the addition of a Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) response category. Under standards released in 1997, people identifying with this group were coded as White. This category was also part of 2015 pre-Census testing but it was not implemented as a separate race category. Even with that omission, over 3.5 million Americans and 55,000 Tennesseans reported they were of MENA descent in the 2020 Census.

Race and Ethnicity Standards Set New Minimums for Collection and Reporting

With the addition of two new categories, there are now seven races and ethnicities for which federal agencies must collect and report data:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Black or African American
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Middle Eastern or North African
  • Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
  • White

However the directive goes further by stating these groups are the minimum collecting and reporting categories. Additional boxes showing detailed groups must also be added. For instance, the country’s largest race group, White, would also be presented with detail boxes including English, German, Irish, etc., as well as a write-in space with prompts for other origins. Other groups would see a similar set of detailed categories (Figure 1).

Sample race and ethnicity questionnaire showing OMB's 2024 detailed categories

Figure 1: Race and Ethnicity Questions with Minimum Categories, Multiple Detailed Checkboxes, and Write-In Response Areas with Example Groups

When a federal agency has concerns about burden or respondent confidentiality, then it may request an exemption to the detailed collection requirement. If approved, then a series of alternative questionnaire formats, that were published along with the Federal Register announcement, can be used.

Eventual Changes for State/Local Agencies and Data Users

The effects of the new requirements are wide-reaching and will eventually impact dozens of federal agencies that collect and report data on race and ethnicity. Changes to the formats of questionnaires, database schemas and the statistics being reported should be expected across a variety of areas like health, labor, education, housing and political redistricting.

State and local agencies that collect or utilize race and ethnicity data should expect to hear more details about their federal partner’s transition to the new requirements within 18 months. Each agency is required to publicize an Action Plan on Race Ethnicity Data by September 28, 2025, with the new standards being fully implemented by early 2029. Those plans will include several facets outlining changes to the questionnaire, processing and reporting.

Figure 2: OMB 2024 Race and Ethnicity Implementation Outline

Top of mind for many data users are concerns about maintaining race-based time series data once the new collection categories are implemented. This can include bridging older race/ethnicity-based data published in conformance with 1997 OMB standards to the 2024 requirements. It can also include cross-walking new data with Hispanic and MENA categories into the 1997 standards.

The SPD 15 technical working group developed an initial set of bridging tools and factors that can be used to convert race and ethnicity statistics into and out of the 1997 and 2024 standards. A more robust and extensive set of tools should become available once data collection begins under the new rule.

Follow the developments on the OMB SPD 15 website: