Hispanic may be a race on 2020 census


In the 1970s, the federal government instituted the word “Hispanic” to better understand the mushrooming demographic group that is multiracial and multiethnic. In spite of criticism, that label stuck.

Now the U.S. Census Bureau is proposing a potentially more controversial change: to collapse two questions on race and ethnicity into one, and create a “Hispanic race” category. Congress won’t decide until 2018, when the wording of the 2020 census is approved.

In the 2010 census, more than half of Hispanics identified themselves as “white.” Thirty-seven percent answered “some other race.””That’s how you know there’s a problem,” said Professor Jorge Chapa of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “The data on race is not very good when 37 percent say essentially ‘none of the above.’ ”

The results also prompted several recommended changes, including the elimination of the word “Negro” in its race question, a proposal many regard as long overdue

The proposed changes are part of the Census Bureau’s 2010 Alternative Questionnaire Experiment Report, in which a half-million households received varying questions to see how the responses differed.But Latino advocacy groups, scholars and others are criticizing the category as inaccurate, inadequate and ludicrous.

“The challenge is many Latinos understand themselves in racial terms instead of as an ethnic group,” said  Louis DeSipio, a professor of political science and Chicano studies at UC Irvine. “The Census Bureau is looking for simplification, which is appropriate, but … has proposed to come up with a single question that forces respondents to think of themselves as a racial term, which some may not be comfortable with.”

Clear or confusing?

While the combined question may be simpler, itl require strong outreach to Latino communities to make sure it’s understood.

An accurate count of the Hispanic population is especially vital in California, where Hispanic residents are poised to outnumber non-Hispanic white people by 2014. Only one other state, New Mexico, has more Hispanics than any other individual group.

In California, where most Hispanic residents are of Mexican origin, the new process could feel more intuitive than in states with Latino racial groups that mainly identify as white.

Matter of perspective

Since 2000, people have been able to mark one or more race, but only one Hispanic ethnicity. While the latter is an easier question (except perhaps for those who are, say, half-Mexican American and half-Puerto Rican), Chapa said the race question has confused some respondents.

Some Latinos don’t regard themselves as white, black or any of the other choices. Some might identify as mestizo, a mix of European and indigenous, but that does not appear on the census form.

Asking about race poses other issues.

“The way (Latinos) identify their race definitely is not what others would identify them as,” Chapa said. “People in the same family might self-identify differently and may look different.


Posted on February 11, 2013, in Article and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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