New American Race, Ethnicity Standards Proposed; for the first time since ’97

A Middle Eastern and North African category could be added to US federal surveys and censuses, and changes could be made to how Hispanics can self-identify, based on preliminary recommendations released by the government on Thursday -Biden in what would be the first update to race and ethnicity norms in a quarter of a century.

The federal government’s standards have not changed since 1997, two decades after they were created as part of an effort to collect consistent race and ethnicity data from federal agencies when handling censuses, federal surveys, and state benefit claim forms.

Questions about race and Hispanic ethnicity are asked separately under the 1997 standards. They would be combined into a single question under the original proposals, which were made by a working group of representatives from various federal agencies convened by the Office of Management and Budget.

Some proponents have pushed for questions about race and Hispanic origin to be combined, saying that the way race is categorized often confuses Hispanic respondents as they are unsure of how to answer. Tests by the Census Bureau in the 2010 census showed that combining the questions produced higher response rates.

Using the 1997 standards, US residents from Middle Eastern and North African countries were encouraged to identify as “white”. Under the new proposal, there would be a separate category for people often referred to by the acronym “MENA”. The Census Bureau recommended adding a MENA category to the 2020 census form, but the Trump administration dropped the idea.

According to a Federal Register notice from the Biden administration due to be released Friday, research suggests that many MENA respondents differentiated their identities from white — and for more than 30 years, stakeholders have been advocating for MENA information to be collected separately from the “white.” of the census. category.

Among the countries of origin that would receive a check for the MENA category would be Lebanon, Iran, Egypt, Syria, Morocco and Israel, the notice said.

“This is a really big deal,” said Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute, a Washington-based civil rights organization. “We’ve been working on a check box for decades to get better data about our community.”

The proposals encourage the collection of more detailed information about race and ethnicity by allowing respondents on government forms to list their country of origin when answering a question about their race or ethnicity. They also recommend scrapping the words “Negro,” “Far East,” and the federal government’s use of the terms “majority” and “minority,” saying they could be considered pejorative or obsolete, and that the standards should be “with respect to how people refer to themselves.”

The need to update the standards has been driven by increasing racial and ethnic diversity, a growing number of people identifying as more than one race or ethnicity, and changing immigration and migration patterns, according to the Federal Register notice.

The working group said their proposals were preliminary and do not yet reflect official federal government standards as they will continue to be rolled out with input from the public, which has until mid-April to submit comments. The goal is to ensure that “the standards better reflect the diversity of the American people,” Karin Orvis, the chief statistician of the US, said in a blog post.

“As we consider these recommendations, we want to hear directly from the American people,” Orvis said.


Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at @MikeSchneiderAP

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