Biden relaunches effort to change the way census asks questions about race and ethnicity

President Biden’s White House is re-launching a previously stalled review of proposed policy changes that could allow the Census Bureau to ask questions about people’s race and ethnicity in a radically new way in time for the 2030 count, NPR has found out.

First offered in 2016, the recommendations ran out of steam under the administration of former President Donald Trump despite years of research by the office who suggested a new question format improve the accuracy of the 2020 census data on Latinos and people with roots in the Middle East or North Africa.

The proposals also appear to have received support from other federal government experts on race and ethnicity data, on the basis of a written document that NPR obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The document lists the headings of written descriptions of the group’s “recommended improvements”, including “Improve data quality: allow flexibility in the format of questions for self-reported race and ethnicity.”

However, the blockade of Trump officials sealed the fate of last year’s census forms. In the absence of a public decision from the White House Office of Management and Budget, the office was forced to stick to previously used racial and ethnic categories and a question format that, agency studies show, an increasing number of people find it confusing and do not reflect the way they identify themselves.

This has raised concerns about the reliability of the next round of 2020 census results, which are scheduled for August 16 and dealing with a tangle of other complications stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, interference by the Trump administration with the count’s schedule and that of the office new privacy protection plans. These detailed demographics are used to redesign electoral districts, enforce civil rights protections, and guide policy development and research.

Review continues under Biden’s OMB

The proposals, however, can be approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget under the Biden administration, which was calling for change in the way government produces and uses data on people of color and other marginalized groups.

“We continue to review previous technical recommendations and public comment, and the extent to which those recommendations help advance this administration’s goal of collecting the data necessary to inform our ambitious equity agenda,” said OMB spokesperson Abdullah Hasan at NPR.

Hasan did not provide a timeline for the current review of proposed changes to government standards for race and ethnicity data, which are set by the OMB and must be followed by all federal agencies, including the office. OMB had already planned to announce a decision in 2017, before the office has to finalize the 2020 census forms.

Other recommended changes include no longer officially authorizing federal inquiries to use the term “Negro” to describe the “Black” category. Another proposal would remove the term “Far East” from the standards as a description of a geographic region of origin for people of Asian descent.

Support for Biden’s choice for Census Bureau director

This month, Biden’s candidate for Census Bureau director Robert Santos promised lawmakers that, if confirmed, he would support one of the key recommendations, which would allow census forms to combine the separate race and Hispanic issues in one. A combined question, according to tests by researchers at the office, would help the office solve the problem of the growing number of people leaving the race question unanswered or checking the “Another Race” box – the third largest racial group reported in 2000 and 2010 .

“The census director does not have the authority to include specific questions,” Santos said in response to a question from Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., During a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on the internal security and government affairs. “But I can use my personal perspective as a Latino and use my research experience and leadership position to work with OMB to ensure that the proper attention is given to this specific issue.”

Survey design expert and currently Chief Methodologist at the Urban Institute, Santos wrote about the need for questions and categories on census forms to “evolve and adapt to ensure that everyone is equitably represented ”, including the Latinx population, one of the fastest in the country. growing groups.

“Racial and ethnic categories are social constructs, defined and designed by those who have historically held positions of influence”, Santos said in a 2019 blog post co-authored with Jorge González-Hermoso, research analyst at the Urban Institute. “The political implications of using inadequate methods to collect identity data are not insignificant.”

During the hearing, Santos suggested that if the OMB ultimately approves the proposed policy changes, the office may not have to wait for the 2030 census to use a combined race-ethnicity question, which it says Santos, could potentially be integrated into the office’s ongoing American community survey.

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