The US government is changing the way it asks about race and ethnicity and adding a new category

Paul Sancia/AP

An envelope containing the 2020 Census letter.


The Office of Management and Budget on Thursday announced changes to how the federal government asks about people's race and ethnicity, including in the U.S. Census.

The Office of Management and Budget said that under the new criteria, scheduled to be published on Friday, the government will collect information on race and ethnicity using a single question and will include a new category for the Middle East and North Africa region as an option.

A question measuring a respondent's race or ethnicity will now include seven broad categories: White, Hispanic, Latino, Black or African American, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native, Middle Eastern or North African, or Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders. Under previous standards, Hispanic or Latino ethnicity was measured with a separate question from the question about racial identity.

“Thanks to the hard work of staff at dozens of federal agencies and input from thousands of members of the public, these updated standards will help create more useful, accurate, and up-to-date federal data on race and ethnicity,” Karen Orvis, chief U.S. statistician at the Office of Management and Budget, said in a blog post. On Thursday, these reviews will enhance our ability to compare information and data across federal agencies, as well as understand how well federal programs are serving a diverse America.

This is the first time in nearly three decades that existing standards have been changed, and is the result of a years-long effort. CNN reported earlier. The Office of Management and Budget sets standards for both the wording of questions and the types of data that government agencies and surveys must collect when they collect information about Americans' racial and ethnic identities.

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Federal agencies will have 18 months to submit an action plan to the Office of Management and Budget, and are expected to implement the new standards within five years, according to an unpublished notice of the new rule.

In a statement, the US Census Bureau praised the new rule and said the agency would begin reviewing and developing plans to implement the changes in censuses and surveys.

“The U.S. Census Bureau commends the scientific integrity and collaboration with fellow federal statistical agencies and departments throughout this process. These efforts are intended to improve federal race and ethnicity statistics and ensure that the data more accurately reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. population,” the agency said.

The nonprofit Arab American Institute, which championed the Middle East and North Africa category, said Arab Americans “will become visible” in all federal data because of the revised criteria, but some concerns remain. The nonprofit said the standards “deny the racial diversity of the Arab American community by excluding Black Arabs and defining the Middle East and North Africa region without one of its largest populations, Armenian Americans.”

“We have operated without a checkbox for decades, and we will now adapt to having a checkbox that does not accurately represent us and continue to push for the accurate data we should have,” AAI Executive Director Maya Berry said in a statement.

Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, said the issue of shared race and ethnicity would improve data collection on Latinos but more work is needed to address subgroups.

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“Under the previous criteria, many Latinos did not see themselves in a separate question about race, and either left the question blank or indicated they were of ‘another race’ — a designation the agency did not recognize,” Vargas said in a statement. .

Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus called the changes a “historic milestone” for the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.

“Today’s announcement by the Office of Management and Budget is not a change or a simple bureaucratic maneuver; it is a once-in-a-generation achievement,” the Democratic caucus chair, Rep. Judy Chu of California, said in a statement.

“As CAPAC has consistently emphasized, grouping AANHPI communities together often obscures the disparities faced by particular racial or ethnic groups, including disparities in economic prosperity, health outcomes, homeownership, or educational attainment, and makes government programs and services less responsive and effective.” “Chou added.

CNN's Jennifer Aguesta contributed to this report.

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