Census Bureau to Ignore Obama-Era Recommendations for Recording Race, Ethnicity

By Kenrya Rankin Jan 26, 2018

The United States Census Bureau issued a statement today (January 26) making it clear that when it comes to recording the race and ethnicity of people living in the U.S., it will act as if it is 1997.

That’s the year “1997 Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity” was released, and those are the guidelines the Bureau will use moving forward. But as NPR reports, Obama-era Bureau officials requested policy revisions that the government’s own research said could improve the accuracy of the 2020 Census, and “changes would carry wide implications for legislative redistricting, civil rights laws and health statistics.”

But the Bureau is not interested in those changes, writing in the statement, “The Census Bureau will not include a combined question format for collecting Hispanic origin and race, or a separate Middle Eastern or North African category on the Census form.”

The Bureau requested the change to the previously-approved policy with the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) earlier this week, with it set to go into effect for the upcoming 2018 Census Test in Providence County, Rhode Island. Today’s statement seems to indicate that the request was granted.

As NPR reports:

To prepare for potential policy changes on race and ethnicity data, that questionnaire, as submitted to OMB last year for approval, originally followed the Obama-era proposals. It combined the two census questions about race and Hispanic origin required by the current federal standards into one question, with "Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish" as an option for both race and ethnicity. Among the other checkboxes under the combined question was "Middle Eastern or North African," which was separate from “White.”

But the Census Bureau has now submitted a request to go back to two separate questions with no checkbox for "Middle Eastern or North African.”

The Obama-era one-question format, courtesy of NPR:


The Trump administration’s requested two-question format, which forgoes a Middle Eastern and North African category and lists Egyptians as White, per NPR:


In a statement issued yesterday, Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the Bureau should be investigated for this decision:

America is more diverse than ever. Accurate, detailed data are an essential tool for ensuring equal opportunity and access to the nation’s institutions and resources for all people, but especially those who have been victims of discrimination historically. The Trump administration has clearly bowed to opponents of diversity and those who view immigrants as a threat to the nation’s future, rather than as a defining characteristic of our nation’s strength and leadership in the world.


We call on Congress to investigate why the administration undermined a comprehensive and, frankly, overdue examination of whether official statistics reflect the full diversity of our rapidly changing population. Congress should not allow the Trump administration’s misguided decision to overturn recommendations from expert Census Bureau staff.

Final wording for the 2020 Census questionnaire is due to Congress by March 31.