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Census Bureau considers changes to race, ethnicity questions

August 8, 2012 |  6:54 pm

The U.S. Census Bureau is considering changes in questions it asks Americans about race, in an effort to keep up with evolving perceptions about race and identity.

The bureau released recommendations Wednesday in which it suggested dropping use of the term “Negro” on its questionnaires and counting Hispanics as a single category, regardless of race. The census now defines Hispanic as an ethnicity, not a race, and respondents who say they are of Hispanic origin are also asked to identify their race.

The recommendations were based on research conducted through experimental questions asked of 500,000 households during the 2010 census. The findings showed that many Americans believe the current categories don’t always jibe with their own views of their identity and have led to confusion.

For example, asked to state their race on the 2010 census, more than 19 million people, including millions of Hispanics, chose “some other race,” rather than select from the five offered categories:  white, black, Asian, American Indian or Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

One change proposed by the Census Bureau would simply ask respondents to choose their race or origin and allow them to check a single box next to categories that would include white, black or Hispanic. Another would end the bureau’s use of the controversial term “Negro” as an alternative for black or African American. And a third would add write-in categories to allow those of Middle Eastern or Arab origin to specifically identify themselves, officials said.

Nicholas Jones, chief of the Census Bureau’s racial statistics branch, said the research findings were the first step in a process leading to possible changes for the 2020 census.

Changes to census questions must be approved by Congress.


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