U.S. Census

Census Bureau Mulls Race and Ethnicity Question Changes

08.04.15

The U.S. Census Bureau is deep into a years-long study of how to “improve the accuracy and reliability of its race and ethnicity data.”

Census data show a growing percentage of respondents does not answer questions about race or ethnicity. Just over 6 percent of people didn’t respond to these questions in 2010, resulting in “millions of people unaccounted for,” according to the Pew Research Center.

Increasingly, Americans are saying they cannot find themselves” on census forms,” said Nicholas Jones, chief of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Racial Statistics Branch in the Population Division. According to him, many communities, including Hispanics, Arabs and people of mixed race, have said they’re unsure how to identify themselves on census forms. In fact, in 2010, some 19 million people checked “some other race” to describe themselves.

To reduce the number of people electing to respond in this way, the bureau is considering for 2020 a combined race and ethnicity question, in which people would be offered “all the options in one place,” with “boxes” to describe in the respondent’s own words his or her specific ethic/national/tribal origin.

It is the formal position of the ACLU that the census serves a vital role in our democracy and that’s why it’s required by the U.S. Constitution. But the ACLU also recognizes the privacy concerns of respondents.

So here’s a good question for our U.S. Census Bureau’s experts: are a significant number of respondents really unclear about how to report themselves racially and ethnically, or are these people really unsure about what their federal government is going to do with their response?