Biden Administration Proposing Expansion To Census Classifications

By  Julia Ordaz

The U.S. Census has long been criticized for being a poor reflection of diversity within the country. The categories it currently has for race are: White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander. As a result of these criticisms, the Biden administration has picked up the helm of a years-long effort to expand the categories. The administration has proposed that the census now include Hispanic or Latino, and Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) boxes as announced in the Federal Register notice. The efforts were started in 2014 with the goal to alter the 2020 census, but the movement was blocked by former president Trump’s administration. 

People of MENA origin are included in the White category, a classification that they claim disregards their identity. Executive director of the Arab American Institute, Maya Berry, says, “We’ve always said we’re not looking to a government form to give us our identity. But when there is no aspect of anyone’s life that is not touched by census data and your community is rendered invisible in the data when you cannot get an accurate count about it, I think it’s pretty extraordinary to understand that this initial real estate on the census form is a big deal.” 

The current census first asks if a person is Hispanic or Latino, and then asks about race. A Pew survey in 2020 found that Hispanic or Latino adults were 2x more likely to regard the census’ two-part race and ethnicity questions as unrepresentative. The confusion shows, as the numbers are scattered across categories. According to the Census Bureau’s report following the 2020 census, 42% of Hispanics reported themselves as “some other race,” 33% selected two or more racial groups, and 20% selected White. This had led to inaccuracies in population count.

Michigan Senator Gary Peters has weighed in. “These proposals will help ensure federal data accurately reflects the diversity of our nation — and I urge OMB to adopt them quickly following the public comment period.” 

The proposals also include the removal of outdated language such as “Negro,” and “Far East” which described a geographic region of origin for Asian people. “Minority” and “majority” terms would also be removed following the country’s rapid diversification. 

The Office of Management Bureau (OMB) has asked members of the public to give their input by April 12, 2023, and are expected to make their final decision regarding the proposals by summer 2024. 

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