April 13, 2024

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US officials order better tracking of political flashpoint: American diversity

US officials order better tracking of political flashpoint: American diversity

The Biden administration ordered changes to a batch of federal surveys on Thursday Collect more detailed information About the racial and ethnic composition of the nation.

The changes — the first in decades to the government's standard questions about race and ethnicity — will produce by far the most detailed portrait of the nation's ancestors ever compiled. A new option will be available for the first time allowing respondents to identify as part of a new category, or of Middle Eastern or North African origins.

But the changes also have the potential to anger conservatives who believe the nation's focus on diversity has already gone too far.

The revisions, released after 21 months of study and public comment, apply not only to the Census Bureau but to all levels of government, to models as diverse as the National Center for Health Statistics. National Health Interview Survey And Applications for social security cards. The measures will take effect this month, but federal agencies will be allowed years to fully implement them.

Existing surveys have a separate option for Hispanic and Latino people to claim this identity, followed by another question that offers multiple options for respondents to choose one or more races.

The changes standardize these questions so that respondents can choose any or all of the seven racial and ethnic categories that apply to them, including Hispanic or Latino origin.

These seven choices will also include the new option that allows respondents to record Middle Eastern or North African ancestry. The Census Bureau estimates that about 3.5 million people fall into this category, all of whom are currently classified as white. But many do not see themselves that way, as an informal poll conducted by The New York Times last month of about 5,300 US residents with this heritage showed.

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Even after selecting racial and ethnic identities, participants will be able to delve deeper into their own backgrounds, choosing as many or as few subcategories as they like from the proposed nationalities, such as German or Lebanese. People who find this number insufficient will be able to write with other nationalities or ethnicities.

US censuses have collected personal information since the 1790s, but since 1977, surveys have specifically tracked basic racial and ethnic characteristics, originally to help enforce 1960s-era civil and voting rights laws. Except for one amendment in 1997, the questions have remained largely unchanged to date.

Officials with the Office of Management and Budget, which oversaw the review of existing survey questions, said the changes were necessary in part to make the surveys more accurate. For example, participants who identified themselves separately as Hispanic or Latino in the existing surveys frequently omitted the choice of racial identity in the questions that followed, something that would occur less often when all questions were combined in a section One.

The changes are also expected to allow experts to measure how different populations benefit from federal programs and services in areas such as employment, health and education, they said.

The new questions are based in part on the 2020 Census, which gave white and African American respondents the option for the first time to write in additional ancestry information if they choose. To the experts' surprise, the number of participants who identified as more than one race was second only to the number of people who identified as white.

When the Census Bureau's Scientific Advisory Committee reviewed the draft of the latest changes In March 2023one of the demographers, Rogelio Sainz The University of Texas at San Antonio called the 2020 results “a wake-up call about what is happening with regard to the increasing racial and ethnic diversity of our nation’s population.”

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“Our world has changed tremendously in terms of racial and ethnic issues,” he said. “At the same time, our methodologies and tools have remained quite stable.”

However, others say that neatly categorizing people into racial and ethnic silos will only further fragment a deeply divided nation.

“Classifying people according to completely arbitrary standards only leads to anxiety, hostility and division,” is one such word Over 20,000 public comments Regarding the aforementioned 2023 draft proposal. “It divides the people and the nation. It is time to stop it, rather than expand it even further.”

Another wrote: “The more we reinforce our self-defined divisions, the less likely we are to work together. Whoa. Whoa.”

Changes hardly come in an instant. Experts have been studying it since the middle of the last decade, and after thousands of public comments, the Office of Management and Budget consulted 35 other federal agencies and a group of social scientists and demographers, among others, for advice.

Those who broadly support the new questions — academics, civil liberties advocates and racial and ethnic interest groups among them — say they will promote greater equity in schools, housing, employment and other aspects of society where census data is used.

Arab Americans, in particular, have lobbied for years to be recognized in federal surveys, and lobbied hard for the adoption of the new classification for people of Middle Eastern and North African origins. Advocates say data from the new category will, among other things, help prosecute hate crimes and civil rights violations against Arab Americans.

“We know that these groups suffer from voter suppression, discriminatory policing, and unequal access to government programs and services,” one supporter of the new category wrote in public comment last year. “But they can’t tell stories because these groups are considered white.”

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However, critics point out that the proposed category of MENA population is not an ethnic or racial construct, but a geographic construct that includes non-Arab countries such as Israel and Iran, and ancestors such as the Kurds.

“We're creating a category for MENA” — short for the Middle East and North Africa — “and making Hispanics an actual race,” Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said in an interview. “We are creating categories to peddle grievances. We need less of this in America, not more.”

One indicator of the fraught politics surrounding the poll questions: The Obama administration considered a proposal in 2016 that was similar to the one approved Thursday, but saw it quickly die in 2017 after Donald J. Trump took the White House. Mr. Gonzalez, Book author On identity politics, he was one of the leaders of the Conservative campaign against this proposal.

Margo Andersonprofessor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and author of Comprehensive history of the censusHe suggested in a recent paper that the Biden administration should return the proposal for further study rather than push for its adoption. “I worry that it will be difficult to establish sensible statistical policy during a presidential election year,” she said in an interview.

Mr. Gonzalez said the new poll questions would likely face opposition from any Republican White House in the future. “It's a long time from now until 2030, which is a very long time,” he said, referring to the date of the next decennial census. “I'll leave it there.”

Kirsten Noyes Contributed to research.