Changing how U.S. forms ask about race and ethnicity is complicated. Here’s why

Good explainer. Canada’s visible minority categories provide much richer detail:

The first changes in more than a quarter-century to how the U.S. government can ask about your race and ethnicity may be coming to census forms and federal surveys.

And the Biden administration’s revival of this long-awaited review of federal standards on racial and ethnic data has resurfaced a thorny conversation about how to categorize people’s identities and the ever-shifting sociopolitical constructs that are race and ethnicity.

While this policy discussion is largely under the radar, the stakes of it touch the lives of every person in the United States.

Any changes to those standards by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget could affect the data used to redraw maps of voting districts and enforce civil rights protections, plus guide policymaking and research. They could also influence how state and local governments, as well as private institutions, generate statistics.

Here are a few things to know about this complicated effort that could change OMB’s Statistical Policy Directive No. 15:

Asking about race and ethnicity in a combined question could shrink a mysterious “Some other race” category

The current standards require federal forms that ask participants their identities to inquire about race and ethnicity through two separate questions. That’s why on census forms, for example, before you see the race question, there’s a question about Hispanic or Latino identity, which the U.S. government considers to be an ethnicity that can be of any race.

But for the 2020 census, close to 44% of Latinos either did not answer the race question at all or checked off only the box for the mysterious catchall category “Some other race,” according to data the Census Bureau released last month.

“They provide really important insights to what we’ve seen in our research over the decade — that Hispanics continued to find great difficulty with answering the separate questions on ethnicity and on race,” Nicholas Jones, director of race and ethnic research and outreach in the bureau’s Population Division, says about the data, the release of which the bureau moved up to help inform discussions about OMB’s standards.

The rise of “Some other race” — which is legally required on the census by Congress and is now the second-largest racial category in the U.S. after white — helped drive earlier research by the bureau into alternative ways of asking about race and ethnicity.

Combining those two topics into one question, while allowing people to check as many boxes as they want, is likely to reduce confusion and the share of Latinos who mark “Some other race,” bureau research from 2015 suggests.

And that has led an OMB working group to propose making a single combined question the new required way of collecting self-reported racial and ethnic data.

How would a combined question likely change how many people identify as Asian, Black or Pacific Islander?

The bureau’s research involved comparing how people could respond to a combined question vs. separate questions.

Its testing in 2015 – along with similar testing in 2010 and 2016 – found no statistically significant differences in the shares of participants who reported identifying as Asian, Black or Pacific Islander. (There are conflicting findings about the potential impact on the percentage of people reporting as American Indian or Alaska Native.)

But Howard Hogan, a former chief demographer at the bureau who retired from the agency in 2018, contends that research is inconclusive on the potential effects a combined question could have on those groups, particularly on the Black population.

“We don’t know for sure. It’s possible that it would have no effect or even increase. But it’s also equally possible, and I believe slightly more likely, that it would reduce,” Hogan says about a combined question’s impact on the share of people identifying as Black, adding that not all of the bureau’s experiments were designed to test how people may respond to a combined question when it’s asked by a census worker in person, which is how many people of color have participated in the count rather than filling out a form on their own.

The bureau was able to do a month of in-person interviewing for its testing in 2016, and it found no statistically meaningful differences in the shares of people identifying as Asian, Black or Pacific Islander.

Despite the limitations of the agency’s research, the bureau’s officials continue to stand behind their recommendation that a combined question would be the “optimal” way of asking about a person’s race and ethnicity.

“We’re confident in the sampling methodology as well as the consistent results that we’ve seen across three, large national tests,” says Sarah Konya, chief of the bureau’s census testing and implementation branch.

There are concerns about how a combined question could affect racial data about Latinos

Major civil rights organizations focused on census and data issues have also voiced their support for a combined question.

But a campaign called “Latino Is Not A Race,” which is led by a group of researchers who are part of the afrolatin@ forum, has raised concerns that a combined question would allow some Latinos to answer the question by only checking a box for “Hispanic or Latino.”

“The idea that there are some Latinos who are just Latino is contributing to the myth that Latinos are exempt from racialization. That’s not true. Our history has never been that. If you go back to any country in Latin America, you will see a racial hierarchy where whites were on top, brown-skinned people were somewhere in the middle, and Black people and people racialized as Indigenous have been on the bottom,” says Nancy López, a sociology professor who directs the University of New Mexico’s Institute for the Study of “Race” and Social Justice and is calling for research into an additional racial category that could be meaningful to Latinos who are racialized as “Brown.”

The OMB working group has said it’s looking into doing more testing of the combined question’s effects by this August, and outside advisers to the bureau on its Census Scientific Advisory Committee have recommended additional tests and focus groups on specifically how Latinos would respond to this race-ethnicity question format.

Any follow-up research is running up against a summer 2024 deadline that OMB has set for its review of the standards in order to enact changes before the end of President Biden’s first term and in time for them to be incorporated into 2030 census preparations, which are already underway.

In the meantime, both López and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund are calling for the standards to clearly define the difference between the concepts of race and ethnicity, which the OMB working group acknowledges many people understand to be similar or the same.

If there’s no combined question, there may be no new “Middle Eastern or North African” checkbox

Entangled within the discussion about the combined-question proposal is the possibility of a new checkbox for “Middle Eastern or North African” — a category that the OMB working group has proposed to no longer classify as white under the federal standards.

Many people in the U.S. with origins in Lebanon, Iran, Egypt and other countries in the Middle East or North Africa do not identify as white people, and advocates for Arab Americans and other MENA groups have spent decades pushing for a checkbox of their own on the census and other forms.

Including a “Middle Eastern or North African” checkbox would likely reduce the share of participants who mark “White” or “Some other race,” while increasing the shares marking “Black” or “Hispanic or Latino,” the Census Bureau’s 2015 research suggests.

But if OMB does not change the standards to allow for a combined question about race and ethnicity, it’s not clear whether a new checkbox for “Middle Eastern or North African” would be approved. The bureau’s research has not specifically tested treating that category on forms as an ethnicity, which has long been the preference for the Arab American Institute and other advocates for a MENA category.

Source: Changing how U.S. forms ask about race and ethnicity is complicated. Here’s why

New evidence disputes Trump administration’s citizenship question rationale

No suprise:

Previously unreleased internal communications indicate the Trump administration tried to add a citizenship question to the census with the goal of affecting congressional apportionment, according to a report issued Wednesday by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The documents appear to contradict statements made under oath by then-Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who told the committee that the push for a citizenship question was unrelated to apportionment and the reason for adding it was to help enforce the Voting Rights Act.

The nearly 500 documents include several drafts of an August 2017 memorandum prepared by a Commerce Department lawyer and political appointee, James Uthmeier, in which he initially warned that using a citizenship question for apportionment would probably be illegal and violate the constitution, the report said.

Source: New evidence disputes Trump administration’s citizenship question rationale

Census 2021 data shows Australians are less religious and more culturally diverse than ever

Canadian diversity data will be released this October. Religion will be included (10 year cycle in contrast to the standard 5 year cycle).

Some of the same trends occurring in Canada:

Australians are increasingly unlikely to worship a god and more likely to come from immigrant families.

The 2021 census has revealed a growing nation — more than 25 million people — that is more diverse than ever.

It also depicts a country undergoing significant cultural changes.

For the first time, fewer than half of Australians identified as Christian, though Christianity remained the nation’s most common religion (declared by 43.9 per cent of the population).

Meanwhile, the number of Australians who said they had no religion rose to 38.9 per cent (from 30.1 per cent in 2016).

The data also shows almost half of Australians had a parent born overseas, and more than a quarter were themselves born overseas.

The census — a national household questionnaire carried out every five years — took place in August last year amid the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

The nation’s two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, were in lockdown and residents of regional New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT were about to join them.

Yet Australian Statistician David Gruen said the census was a success despite this challenge, with the household response rate rising to 96.1 per cent from 95.1 per cent five years earlier.

About four in five households submitted their answers online.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will begin publishing census results today and release more data in coming months.

The information helps governments improve their services, and helps researchers and businesses better understand the community.

Beliefs and family traditions are changing

Christianity was the stated religion of about 90 per cent of Australians until 1966, when its dominance began to wane.

The ABS says migration has affected the trends since, though much of the change is due to the growth of atheist and secular beliefs.

The fastest-growing religions, according to the latest census, are Hinduism (2.7 per cent of the population) and Islam (3.2 per cent), though these worshippers remain small minorities.

The 2021 census was also the first to collect data since same-sex marriages were allowed in Australia.

Almost 24,000 of these marriages were officially recorded.

However, marriage itself is becoming less prevalent.

A generation ago (in 1991), 56.1 per cent of Australians aged over 15 were in a registered marriage. That has now dropped to 46.5 per cent.

New Australians are increasingly from India

Australia has long been one of the world’s great immigration nations, accepting more people than most other countries.

Last year, almost half of the population (48.2 per cent) were first or second-generation migrants, having at least one parent born overseas. That compares with 41.1 per cent 30 years ago.

Of the 27.6 per cent of Australians who were themselves born overseas, the most common country of birth was England.

However, India has become the second-most-common source country, overtaking China and New Zealand.

The census also asked Australians to report their “ancestry”, as opposed to their country of birth or ethnicity.

The top responses were English (33 per cent), Australian (29.9 per cent), Irish (9.5 per cent) or Scottish (8.6 per cent), with another 5.5 per cent saying Chinese.

Source: Census 2021 data shows Australians are less religious and more culturally diverse than ever

Biden officials may change how the U.S. defines racial and ethnic groups by 2024

Long overdue:

The Biden administration is taking steps that could change how the U.S. census and federal surveys produce racial and ethnic data that is used for redrawing voting districts, enforcing civil rights protections, policymaking and research.

The multiyear process is likely to carry out long-awaited data policy changes that will particularly affect how Latinos and people of Middle Eastern or North African descent are counted in statistics around the country.

In a blog post released Wednesday, Karin Orvis, U.S. chief statistician within the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the federal agency is starting a new formal review of the government’s standards for statistics about race and ethnicity to help ensure they “better reflect the diversity of the American people.”

The goal, Orvis added, is “completing the revision no later than Summer 2024,” which would be months ahead of the next presidential election and in time for any changes to be incorporated into 2030 census plans.

“I understand the importance of moving quickly and with purpose. It is also important that we get this right,” Orvis said in the post, noting that the process will include gathering input from federal agencies and members of the public.

A little-known part of the federal government, OMB is in charge of determining how the Census Bureau and all other agencies can ask about a person’s racial and ethnic identities, as well as defining the checkboxes found on surveys.

First set in 1977, OMB’s standards for racial and ethnic data were last revised in 1997 and have influenced how surveys across the U.S. generate demographic statistics.

A major overhaul was expected ahead of the 2020 census. But those efforts stalled during former President Donald Trump’s administration despite years of research by the bureausuggesting that certain changes to the standards could improve the accuracy of statistics about Latinos and people with origins in the Middle East or North Africa.

Other proposals included no longer officially allowing the term “Negro” to be used to describe the “Black” category on federal surveys and taking out “Far East” from the standards as a description of a geographic region of origin for people of Asian descent.

Orvis noted that the new review will make use of past research, as well as the work of an earlier working group of career civil servants who were reviewing proposals to allow forms to ask about a person’s Hispanic origins and race in a combined question and to include a checkbox for “Middle Eastern or North African.”

Many Democrats in Congress have been calling for OMB to add a separate category for people of Middle Eastern or North African descent, whom the current standards classify as “White.”

“Federal demographic data does not reflect the realities of MENA individuals and community-based organizations, which makes it increasingly difficult for advocates, researchers, agency officials, and policymakers to communicate, understand, and address community needs,” wrote a group of Democratic members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee led by Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, the committee’s chair, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan in a letter this week to the head of OMB.

The Biden administration has previously signaled that adding such a category would be a priority. Movement at OMB, however, has been slowed by the delayed confirmation of a new agency director and the hiring of a new chief statistician.

Asked by NPR why OMB decided to start a new review of its standards on racial and ethnic data instead of continuing its earlier review, OMB’s press office did not answer directly and referred instead to Orvis’ blog post.

Source: Biden officials may change how the U.S. defines racial and ethnic groups by 2024

Mora: What can we do about Latino undercount in 2020 census?

More on the undercount:

On Thursday, the U.S. Census Bureau released a long-awaited report estimating the 2020 census undercount. Given the challenges of conducting a census in a pandemic, undercounts had been expected by many experts and the report bore them out: The overall total population was deemed accurate, but white people and Asian Americans were overcounted, and other groups were undercounted, especially Latinos. In fact, the undercount rate of Latinos — at 5% — represents a staggering 300% increase compared with the 2010 census.

This is not a new problem. Latinos have been a “hard to count” population for decades. Analysts at the Census Bureau know their counts may miss those who have lower incomes, experience housing instability, speak languages other than English and distrust or fear the government — all qualities present in Latino communities, which include high percentages of immigrants and whose members face discrimination that can lead to economic disadvantage.

But while an undercount may have been expected, a 300% increase is not business as usual. Rather, it is an injustice and the culmination of a calculated attack on the census during Donald Trump’s presidency.

When President Trump was elected, the Census Bureau was in the process of changing the way it tabulates race and ethnicity. Drawing on more than a decade of research and with input from hundreds of civil rights and other organizations, the bureau had decided to allow respondents to identify their race and ethnicity in a “check all that apply” format, and to include among the options Hispanic/Latino and Middle Eastern/North African. The revised format was shown in tests to improve response rates for all groups, and especially for Latinos.

In 2018, Trump and his secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, halted the revision and demanded their own change in the 2020 census forms — a question to determine the citizenship of respondents. A lengthy legal battle ensued, ending in a 2019 ruling siding with Latino advocacy groups who had shown that a citizenship question would disparately affect Latino communities, dramatically depressing their participation and undermining the Constitution’s mandate to count “the whole number of persons in each state.”

The damage was done however. During 2019-2020, we conducted interviews with Latinos in two major metropolitan areas and found widespread distrust of the Trump administration that often led our interviewees to fear completing and submitting their census forms.

And now the result: A significant undercount of Latinos in the statistical base that governs political representation and many other functions of government. The 5% underrepresentation for a Latino population of more than 60 million could translate into at least $3 billion in lost funding for some towns and cities. The impact on political power is as profound. The undercount will likely mean fewer elected advocates for the kind of immigration and economic reforms that are central for Latino communities’ well-being.

In the end, the Trump administration got what it wanted. It undermined a burgeoning minority in the United States, falsifying the size and scale of the population and literally discounting them.

So where do we go from here? First, Robert L. Santos, the new director of the Census Bureau, can immediately adopt the revised race and ethnicity census question format so that all future research — including the interim surveys that supplement the decennial count — will allow Latinos to better identify themselves.

Next, Congress must establish a task force to examine the issue of Census Bureau integrity, with the goal of shielding the decennial count from overt political manipulation. The Trump administration’s behavior proves that we need a set of legislative policies that protect and reinforce the bureau’s independence and scientific goals. The decennial count must never again be held hostage to presidential whims.

Finally, Latino advocacy and community groups must organize with others to petition and pressure state legislators to use the Census Bureau’s adjusted estimates as they set policy in the coming years.

State and congressional redistricting based on the inaccurate count has already happened and can’t be undone, but the adjusted figures can help to combat some of the effects of undercounting on the way funds are allocated.

The nonpartisan work of the Census Bureau can and must be protected. Ultimately, the undercounts in 2020 affected people of color — including those who identify as Latino, Black and American Indian. The errors represent a critical issue for our democracy. They make communities invisible and trigger losses that will be felt for generations to come.

G. Cristina Mora is an associate professor of sociology and the co-director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley. Julie A. Dowling is associate professor of sociology and Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She served on the U.S. Census Bureau’s advisory committee on race and ethnicity from 2014 to 2020.

Source: Op-Ed: What can we do about Latino undercount in 2020 census?

New Zealand: Ethnic minorities want ‘crude’ MELAA classification changed for Census 2023

Of note (overly broad category):

Kiwis from minority ethnic communities say census results need to stop lumping them together in the same basket.

Currently, people who are Middle Eastern, Latin American and African are rolled together in one category called MELAA, an acronym of the ethnicities, even though they are from very different demographics.

Dr Diana Albarrán González moved to Aotearoa from Mexico in 2015, and was surprised to find herself in the same ethnic category as people from Lebanon or Somalia.

“When I first arrived, I was confused about MELAA because there is a lot of diversity within that classification, said González, who is a deputy director of design at Auckland University.

“Africa for example is a huge continent and diverse within that continent. Then you have the Middle East, and again, they have their own histories, and their own cultural backgrounds, and then the same within the Latin American community here in New Zealand.”

González said the MELAA classification was incorrectly homogenising minority ethnic groups.

“It’s important to have numbers and a register of the population, but when those numbers become policies to improve health or employment outcomes, this ethnicity classification is not serving us.”

Dr Matthew Farry​ identifies as a Lebanese New Zealander, and said the MELAA category reduced a “huge” amount of racial, ethnic and cultural diversity.

”The reason they’ve put us together is we’re all non-white European ethnic groups. It lumps people of colour into one category, when the only thing we have in common is that we’re all non-European in our origins.

“I’m a third-generation New Zealander whose parents are Lebanese ethnically. We always used to get upset because there was never anything in the census that said Lebanese, when we’ve been here for 130 years.”

Farry is executive director of the Courageous Conversation South Pacific institute, which works to improve race relations in Aotearoa.

The number of MELAA people in New Zealand is statistically small – at the 2018 census there were just 70,330, representing 1.5 per cent of the country’s population.

A Census NZ spokesperson said people were able to provide their actual ethnicity on the census form, which meant statistical data could be provided for different ethnicities within MELAA.

“MELAA was established to give more prominence to these ethnicities in statistical reporting as a level one (the highest level) statistical grouping, in the same way there is a statistical grouping for European, Pacific Peoples, Asian.

“It is currently used in output data where the focus is not looking at ethnicity in detail, but in combination with other detailed concepts, or when a high-level overview is most appropriate.

“The majority of core census outputs on ethnicity that Stats NZ produces are available at more detailed levels of the classification.”

Farry said the experience of MELAA communities echoed how Māori had been treated in a colonial setting.

“Their stories were suppressed, their histories suppressed, they were dispossessed. That set up a New Zealand that doesn’t deal with racial, ethnic and cultural diversity very well.

“So when we come here, we enter an already single narrative New Zealand and symptomatic of that, is MELAA. It is a reduction that doesn’t enrich me.”

Justin Benn​ said the MELAA classification was “crude”.

Benn, who is president of the West Indian and Caribbean society in New Zealand, moved here in 2011 after growing up in London with a family from Trinidad and Tobago.

“I am from the Caribbean community,” he said. “It’s different from coming from Africa or the Middle East or Latin America.”

Benn added that the classification “weakened a sense of inclusion”.

“It communicates a disregard that is probably not intentional, but it does need addressing. If we’re looking at opportunities to be more inclusive, here is a clear example of how we can do that.”

Guled Mire, a community advocate and public policy specialist whose family fled Somalia as refugees, said the ethnicity classification should be updated immediately.

“Statistics population data is really essential for public policy,” he said. “That is information that is used to then plan, develop and implement public policy measures.

“If we’re not recording and classifying ethnicity data for some of our most vulnerable communities in a way that is appropriate, that harms us in terms of how government is able to respond to our needs.

“We have asked for this to be changed for years.”

Stats NZ ran public consultation in 2019 to seek feedback on the classification of ethnic groups, the Census NZ spokesperson said.

“The MELAA grouping was highlighted as an area of concern for a number of people. Stats NZ has recently commenced a review of the Ethnicity NZ Standard Classification. The MELAA issue will be considered as part of this ongoing review.”

Any changes made as a result of the review will not be implemented until after Census 2023.

Source: Ethnic minorities want ‘crude’ MELAA classification changed for Census 2023

The 2020 census had big undercounts of Black people, Latinos and Native Americans

More on the census and undercounts:

The 2020 census continued a longstanding trend of undercounting Black people, Latinos and Native Americans, while overcounting people who identified as white and not Latino, according to estimates from a report the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday.

Latinos — with a net undercount rate of 4.99% — were left out of the 2020 census at more than three times the rate of a decade earlier.

Among Native Americans living on reservations (5.64%) and Black people (3.30%), the net undercount rates were numerically higher but not statistically different from the 2010 rates.

People who identified as white and not Latino were overcounted at a net rate of 1.64%, almost double the rate in 2010. Asian Americans were also overcounted (2.62%). The bureau said based on its estimates, it’s unclear how well the 2020 tally counted Pacific Islanders.

The long-awaited findings came from a follow-up survey the bureau conductedto measure the accuracy of the latest head count of people living in the U.S., which is used to redistribute political representation and federal funding across the country for the next 10 years.

Other estimates the bureau released on Thursday revealed that the most recent census followed another long-running trend of undercounting young children under age 5.

COVID and Trump administration meddling hurt the count’s accuracy

While the bureau’s stated goal is to “count everyone once, only once, and in the right place,” miscounts have come with every census. Some people are counted more than once at different addresses, driving overcounts, while U.S. residents missing from the census fuel undercounting.

Disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic and interference by former President Donald Trump’s administration raised alarms about the increased risk of the once-a-decade tally missing swaths of the country’s population. COVID-19 also caused multiple delays to the bureau’s Post-Enumeration Surveythat’s used to determine how accurate the census results are and inform planning for the next national count in 2030.

During the news conference announcing the follow-up survey results, Census Bureau Director Robert Santos — who, before becoming the agency’s head, told Bloomberg CityLab that he believed the census was “being sabotaged” during the Trump administration to produce results that benefit Republicans — acknowledged “an unprecedented set of challenges” facing the bureau over the last couple of years.

“Many of you, including myself, voiced concerns. How could anyone not be concerned? These findings will put some of those concerns to rest and leave others for further exploration,” Santos, a Biden administration appointee, said during the news conference announcing the follow-up survey results.

The bureau said previously that it believes the census results are “fit to use” for reallocating each state’s share of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, as well as redrawing voting districts.

Census numbers are also used to guide the distribution of an estimated $1.5 trillion each year in federal money to communities for health care, education, transportation and other public services. Some tribal, state and local officials are considering ways of challenging the results for potential corrections that would be factored into future funding decisions.

The report the bureau released on Thursday only provided a national-level look at the count’s accuracy, and the agency says it’s planning to release state-level metrics this summer.

“There are a lot more states for us to check and review and look through,” said Timothy Kennel, assistant division chief for statistical methods, during a webinar before Thursday’s release.

Civil rights groups are looking for remedies

Still, these national-level metrics resurfaced concerns among civil rights organizations and other census watchers who have warned for years about the risk of racial gaps in the census numbers leading to inequitable allocations of political power and federal money.

In response to the bureau reporting that American Indians and Alaska Natives living on reservations continued to have the highest net undercount rate among racial and ethnic groups, Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said the results “confirm our worst fears.”

“Every undercounted household and individual in our communities means lost funding and resources that are desperately needed to address the significant disparities we face,” added Sharp, who is also the vice president of the Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah, Wash., in a statement.

Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, which led a federal lawsuit in 2020 to try to stop Trump officials from cutting counting efforts short, said the group’s lawyers are considering returning to court to try to secure a remedy.

“We’ve talked about voter suppression. Now we see population suppression,” Morial said on a call with reporters. “And when you tie them together, it is the poisonous tree of seeking to diminish the distribution of power in this nation on a fair and equitable basis.”

Other longtime census watchers see this moment as a chance to reimagine what the next count in 2030 could look like

Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, said the next census should be taken in a “much more modern and effective way” to address the persistent undercounting of Latinos and other people of color.

“This whole notion of coming up with a master address file and mailing everybody an invitation to participate and hoping that they respond, and if they don’t, you go knock on their doors, that’s an obsolete way now of counting the U.S. population. We need a better way. I don’t have the answer to what that better way is, but I want to work with the Census Bureau to figure it out,” Vargas added.

In addition to looking ahead to the next decade, Vargas noted a more immediate concern: how to improve the annual population estimates that the bureau produces using 2020 census data and that states and local communities rely on to get their shares of federal funding.

Asked by NPR if there are any plans to factor the new over and undercounting rates into those estimates, Karen Battle, chief of the bureau’s population division, replied the agency is “taking steps in that direction.”

“But we have to do research so that we can understand whether or not we can do that,” Battle said.

Source: The 2020 census had big undercounts of Black people, Latinos and Native Americans

Why it’s hard to know how accurate the 2020 census was

Of interest:

No census in the U.S. has been perfect.

Exactly how imperfect the national head count was in 2020 may start to be revealed in a report the Census Bureau is set to release Thursday.

While the 2020 census may now seem like a distant memory, any confirmed over or undercounts carry both near and long-term implications on how political representation and federal money are distributed in the United States.

Disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic, historic hurricane and wildfire seasons and years of interference by former President Donald Trump’s administration made it especially difficult for the bureau to try to count every person living in the country. These extraordinary challenges have also made it harder to pinpoint the tally’s accuracy.

For the next decade, any census errors would be baked into the data used to reallocate each state’s share of congressional seats and Electoral College votes; redraw voting districts for every level of government; help distribute an estimated $1.5 trillion a year in federal funds for public services; and form the country’s understanding of who lives in the United States.

Here’s what else you need to know to decode the Census Bureau’s upcoming data quality report:

The over or undercount of the total population masks racial inequities

After the 2010 count, the bureau’s director at the time, Robert Groves, called the tally “an outstanding census” for having a net overcount of the total U.S. population of 0.01%, which translates into overcounting by about 36,000 people.

Focusing on just that sliver of a percent, however, would mean overlooking a stark flaw along racial and ethnic lines: Decade after decade, the U.S. census has overcounted people who identify as white and not Latino, while undercounting people of color. The 2010 tally was no exception.

Civil rights organizations and other census watchers are concerned this trend is likely to have continued in 2020, perpetuating inequitable distributions of political power and federal money for another 10 years.

COVID-19 made it harder to measure who was left out of the count

Just as the pandemic disrupted door knocking for the census, it also delayed in-person interviews for the follow-up survey the bureau relies on to determine over and undercounting rates by race, ethnicity and other demographic characteristics.

That has many census watchers worried about how accurate the results of the Post-Enumeration Survey will be.

Faced with many households’ reluctance to speak with strangers at their doors and general census fatigue, the bureau extended the survey’s interviewing schedule. The shifts raised the risk of households not accurately recalling who was living at their home address on Census Day, which was April 1, 2020.

Still, bureau officials have said that despite the challenges, they believe the survey’s estimates “will produce a helpful picture.”

Quality metrics at the state level and lower would tell a fuller story

The bureau says Thursday’s report – the first of a series on the quality of the 2020 census data based on Post-Enumeration Survey estimates – will provide only a national-level look.

Counting efforts can range greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood, which means to get a fuller story on the accuracy of the 2020 tally, metrics at the state level and lower are needed.

Estimates by state are expected from the bureau this summer. However, the survey is not conducted in remote areas of Alaska. It also does not include people experiencing homelessness or those living in college dorms, prisons or other group quarters, where residents were particularly difficult to count accurately in the early months of the pandemic.

In December, the bureau announced it is not planning to release new over and undercounting rates for counties and smaller local communities and needs to do more research on how to produce those quality metrics below the state level.

Source: Why it’s hard to know how accurate the 2020 census was

U.S. census director says the bureau needs to reduce chances of meddling after Trump

Of note:

The U.S. Census Bureau needs to work on ways the limit the potential for political interference with future national headcounts, the bureau’s director, Robert Santos, told NPR on Monday.

“I’m not too interested in looking back on and relitigating the events that occurred with the previous administration. But looking forward, I think it’s really important for us to make sure that there are policies and regulations that are in place to reduce the chance of meddling,” Santos said in one of his first media interviews since becoming the bureau’s leader in January.

After NPR previously reported on Santos’ comments about the Biden administration drafting new regulations to try to better protect the bureau from any interference from its parent agency, the Commerce Department, Santos said in an email that he misspoke.

“I am not aware of any regulations being drafted and apologize for the confusion,” Santos said.

Instead, he added, he meant to refer to ongoing work by the administration’s Scientific Integrity Task Force on improving the policies of federal agencies, including the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department.

Last month, a report by that task force, which included the bureau’s highest-ranking civil servant, Deputy Director Ron Jarmin, warned that the bureau and other federal statistical agencies “must protect against interference in their efforts to create and release data that provide a set of common facts to inform policymakers, researchers, and the public.”

The assessment came after years of meddling with the 2020 census by former President Donald Trump’s administration, which attempted to add a hotly contested question about U.S. citizenship status to the head count’s forms; added a series of political appointees with no obvious qualifications to the bureau’s top ranks; and cut short counting efforts after the COVID-19 pandemic delayed many of the bureau’s operations.

The moves by the previous administration have fueled calls for new ways to safeguard the once-a-decade head count’s integrity.

In recent decades, there have been proposals to move the bureau out of the Commerce Department and make it an independent agency. These efforts include bills in Congress introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York who currently chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

“I will support whatever it is that Congress decides that they want to do,” Santos, who is expected to serve as the bureau’s director through 2026, told NPR. “There are many issues that need to be worked out if an independent agency was created. However, I’m comfortable with the current structure, and I will work with Congress in terms of whatever they decide.”

The first Latino to head the federal government’s largest statistical agency, Santos is weeks into a political appointment that has landed him in not only U.S. history books but also a hotbed of controversy over the results of the 2020 head count.

Even though the results have already been used to reallocate each state’s share of congressional seats and Electoral College votes, as well as to redraw maps of voting districts across the country, questions about accuracy linger over the count.

On March 10, the bureau is set to start releasing results of its own assessment of the data’s quality.

Concerned about the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and interference by the Trump administration, many census watchers are hoping to see to what extent the 2020 census may continue a decades-long pattern — the overcounting of people who identify as white and not Latino and the undercounting of people of color.

Flaws in the count carry big implications for political representation, the distribution of some $1.5 trillion a year and the country’s understanding of the people living in the United States. Santos and other bureau officials are under pressure to come up with new methods to mitigate the effects of a turbulent census.

Santos is also stepping into a heated debate over privacy protections applied to the 2020 census redistricting data and other more detailed information, just as the bureau ramps up its planning for the 2030 census, which could bring new ways of collecting data on race and ethnicity, particularly about Latinos and people of Middle Eastern or North African descent.

The 2020 census likely left out people of color at rates higher than a decade ago

Of note:

Last year’s approximately $14.2 billion census likely undercounted people of color at higher rates than those of the previous once-a-decade tally, an Urban Institute study released Tuesday suggests.

Researchers at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank say that while the Census Bureau may have continued to overcount people who identified as white and not Latino, it also likely failed to count some 2.5 million people in other racial and ethnic groups.

The Urban Institute estimates that nationwide, the net undercount rates by race or ethnicity were highest for Black people (2.45%), Latinx people (2.17%) and Pacific Islanders (1.52%). The estimated net undercount rates for Asian Americans and Native Americans were each less than a percent.

The study, which cites NPR’s reporting, also finds last year’s net undercount rate for children under 5 (4.86%) is likely higher than what is considered the bureau’s most reliable 2010 estimate. The net undercount rate for renters may have almost doubled over the past decade to 2.13%, and for households with noncitizens, that rate may have been as high as 3.36%.

The Urban Institute’s method for calculating the national head count’s accuracy is different from what the Census Bureau uses. The think tank’s new figures come months before the bureau is set to start releasing its over- and undercount estimates from a follow-up survey for a census that was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and interference from former President Donald Trump’s administration, including a failed push to add a citizenship question.

“In a decennial census where there was a lot of uncertainty, I think it’s increasingly important to have external benchmarks on census data so we know, for example, if states need to rethink how they allocate resources within their state,” Diana Elliott, one of the Urban Institute report’s co-authors, says of how each state’s share of federal funding is determined in part by census results.

To produce their estimates, researchers with the Urban Institute used census participation rates, national survey results and other data to simulate results of last year’s national head count.

One of the report’s advisers — Robert Santos, who is the Urban Institute’s chief methodologist — is also President Biden’s nominee for Census Bureau director.

Source: The 2020 census likely left out people of color at rates higher than a decade ago