Census may change race, ethnicity terms

Race and ethnicity changes on the survey could have significant repercussions. Nonprofit groups, government agencies and educational institutions use decennial census information to seek or grant more than $400 billion in aid. The numbers are also used to create or maintain political districts.

Arcela Nuñez-Alvarez runs the National Latino Research Center at Cal State San Marcos.

In an effort to better reflect social, cultural and economic trends on its decennial survey of residents, the U.S. Census Bureau is exploring whether to drop the word “Negro,” add ways for Middle Easterners to reflect their countries of origin and combine the race and ethnicity categories so “Hispanic” can become a stand-alone option.

Among the proposed revisions, the potentially new Hispanic designation is receiving the most public scrutiny. Latino advocates worry that counts of Hispanic Americans might drop, while demographers and other researchers welcome the possible change.

“We tend to identify ourselves by how society responds to us,” said John Weeks, a demographer at San Diego State University. “I think allowing people in one question to give all their options is what we want. It’s the best possible approach.”

In past census counts, including the one in 2010, respondents were first asked whether or not they were Hispanic, Latino or of Spanish origin. Then they were asked to select a race, such as white, black, Asian or two or more races.


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