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US Government Proposes Combining Race and Ethnicity Questions in Surveys

Predicting Race ( Photo: Python in Plain English )

The current system has two separate questions, one asking whether a respondent is of Hispanic or Latino descent, and the other asking about their race.


A crowd of people ( Photo: The Survey Center of American Life )

The US government is considering a proposal that would change the way it measures and reports on race and ethnicity

The proposal would combine these two questions into one and add a new category for people of Middle Eastern and North African descent. It would also expand the categories used to measure race and ethnicity and require more detailed information where possible.

The proposal comes from a working group of government statisticians and methodologists and is partly intended to reduce the number of people choosing a nebulous “some other race” category, which is included in two key government studies measuring American demographics. Nearly 18,000 comments had been submitted on the Federal Register notice page about the proposal as of 17 April.

The way racial disparities in housing, healthcare, and employment are understood and tracked, how congressional districts are drawn, and how the resources of some government programs are allocated and assessed are all affected by decisions about what gets measured and how.

Final decisions on the proposed standards are expected in the summer of 2024. While some researchers say the proposed changes would improve the accuracy and depth of data available on race and ethnicity, others fear it would make it harder to understand racially driven inequalities in the US.

The current system has been in place since 1997, with one question asking whether respondents have a Hispanic or Latino background

The decennial census and the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey are required to include a “some other race” category. The proposed changes would merge the collection of race and ethnicity information into a single question, expand the categories used to measure race and ethnicity and mandate the collection of more detailed information where possible.

The proposed combined question measuring a respondent’s race or ethnicity includes seven broad categories: White, Hispanic or Latino, Black or African American, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, Middle Eastern or North African, and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. The “some other race” category would also continue for the decennial census and the American Community Survey.

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