New Federal Racial, Ethnic Categories Reflect Latino Diversity


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For over 25 years, Americans have been asked to categorize themselves as one of five races standardized by the federal government.  

However, the United States is one of the most culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse countries in the world.  

For instance, those who identify as Hispanic or Latino or Latinx are comprised of many different nations, cultures, dialects, and races, making it nearly impossible to capture an accurate picture of Latinos in a single check box. 

The narrow selection of choices doesn’t reflect this diversity, limiting our understanding of race and ethnicity, especially when it comes to socioeconomic and health data.  

To ensure that collected data accurately reflects the people who live in the US, the White House Office of Management and Budget announced a change to its “Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity.” 

The alterations include adding Middle Eastern and North African categories, combining race and ethnicity questions, and giving respondents the option to check multiple boxes. 

These changes seek to give ethnic minorities such as Latinos a chance for these categories to match how they see themselves. 

“You can’t underestimate the emotional impact this has on people,” said Meeta Anand, senior director for Census & Data Equity at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “It’s how we conceive ourselves as a society. … You are seeing a desire for people to want to self-identify and be reflected in data so they can tell their own stories.” 

Category Changes 

One of the biggest changes is the addition of the Middle Eastern and North African categories. 

Previously, those who identify as Middle Eastern, which includes people from places such as Lebanon, Iran, Egypt, and Syria, ticked the box labeled white. 

Now Middle Eastern and North African Americans, which represent 3.5 million residents according to the 2020 census, can be accurately counted.

 “It feels good to be seen,” said Florida state Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat from Orlando whose parents are from Iran. “Growing up, my family would check the ‘white’ box because we didn’t know what other box reflected our family. Having representation like that, it feels meaningful.” 

In addition, the change will eliminate the use of the derogatory words “Negro” and “Far East” along with the terms “majority” and “minority” from federal forms.  

The change also goes beyond minimum data collection standards by encouraging the collection of more detailed race and ethnicity data, such as designating “Chinese” and “Filipino” for someone who identifies as “Asian.”  

By breaking down the data into subgroups, which is also known as disaggregation, supporters of the addition hope to shed light on disparities created by the use of these more expansive ethnic and racial groupings.  

“To be able to disaggregate can really be helpful to distinguish different kinds of discrimination, the ability to enforce laws around discrimination and do research on public health and economic outcomes,” said Allison Plyer, chief demographer of The Data Center in New Orleans. 

What the Category Changes Mean for Latinos 

When confronted with race and ethnicity questions on federal forms, Latinos were asked whether they were Hispanic or Latino followed by choosing a race, which included white, Black, American Indian, or other. 

The Associated Press reported that the limited selection was the source of confusion among some respondents, who were unsure how to answer the question. 

“When that question is asked separately … they understand race and ethnicity to be similar and they often pick “some other race” or do not answer the question,” according to The AP.  

During the 2020 Census, 42% of Latinos checked “some other race,” 20% chose White, and about a third of census takers selected “two or more racial groups,” according to the Pew Research Center. 

“Certain people would feel compelled to maybe check a race they didn’t feel was theirs,” Anand said in an article published by KHOU-TV. 

By grouping the categories and adding subcategories, which include “Mexican, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Cuban, Dominican, and Guatemalan,” Latinos will be more accurately represented in federal data. 

Being able to select multiple categories for the race/ethnicity question will also give Latinos a chance to be seen. 

“What’s great about this new form you can put just Hispanic, or you could put Hispanic and Black if that’s how you view, yourself, or Hispanic and white it allows for that flexibility to reflect how they see themselves,” Anand said in the KHOU-TV article. 

Federal Implementation 

As part of its rigorous process, the Office of Management and Budget enlisted the public’s help to come up with the revisions.

 Their efforts included the Interagency Technical Working Group on Race and Ethnicity Standards, which helped come up with the “recommendations for improving the quality and usefulness of Federal race and ethnicity data,” according to a MeriTalk news article. 

The working group, consisting of Federal government career staff spanning 35 agencies, oversaw the review of 20,000 comments and 100 listening sessions to develop the revisions to Statistical and Policy Directive No. 15. 

“These updated standards will help create more useful, accurate, and up to date federal data on race and ethnicity,” Chief Statistician of the United States Karin Orvis wrote in a blog post. “These revisions will enhance our ability to compare information and data across federal agencies, and also to understand how well federal programs serve a diverse America.” 

Federal agencies will begin implementing these standards in their survey forms by submitting an Agency Action Plan with the intent of imitating the changes within 18 months, to be completed within five years.  

In addition, the Office of Management and Budget created the Interagency Committee on Race and Ethnicity Statistical Standards, which is tasked with government-wide research and will conduct regular views of the policy directive. 

While these changes are designated for federal data collection, forms, surveys, and census questionnaires, state governments, private businesses, and universities could soon follow suit.  

Make Your Community’s Health Count! 

These policy directive changes will be on full display come the 2030 Census.  

Much of what is gleaned from the census grants valuable insight into the country’s diverse population, so that the government can address disparities when it comes to income, health, education, food, and more. 

These changes will hopefully allow for more accurate statistical data that reflects these disparities and lead to policies that create equitable living for all.  

The information collected in the census can also be broken down into locality, giving us a more in-depth look into the quality of living where we are.  

Some of this data is represented in the Salud America! Health Equity Report Card. 

This free, downloadable resource uses data, statistics, and graphs to help you visualize the health of your community.  

Stay informed on access to healthcare, schools, housing, and more by comparing where you live with the rest of the state and country. 

Share the Health Equity Report Card on social media or with local lawmakers to ensure everyone’s health is accounted for in your community. 


By The Numbers By The Numbers



for every Latino neighborhood, compared to 3 for every non-Latino neighborhood

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