US Government changes how it classifies people by race, ethnicity

Commuters at Penn Station in New York City, Dec. 9, 2023, move to the platform to board a New Jersey Transit train. [File,VOA]

The U.S. government is changing how it classifies people by race and ethnicity in a move that officials hope will better count people who identify as Hispanic or of Middle Eastern and North African heritage.

Announced Thursday by the Office of Management and Budget, the revisions are the first changes to the official categories in 27 years and mark an attempt to more accurately count the U.S. population. Those who support the revisions say they will better reflect people's identities and help define voting districts, among other things.

Some people living in the United States won’t see the changes until the next once-a-decade census in 2030, but others may see the revisions reflected sooner in other forms and surveys from the federal government as well as state governments and private businesses and universities that take their cue from Washington.

Under the revisions, questions about race and ethnicity that previously were asked separately will be reformatted into a single question, which will give people the option to pick multiple categories at the same time. “Select all that apply,” the instructions read.

A Middle Eastern and North African category will also be created. Previously, the U.S. government counted such individuals as White, but now they have the option to identify themselves in the new, separate category.

These revisions to the census began in 2014 under the Obama administration, but they were put aside during the Trump administration and then revived under the Biden administration.

The reformatted race and ethnicity question will also include a “Hispanic or Latino” option for respondents to select. Studies show that a large proportion of Hispanic people are unclear on how to answer the race question when it is asked separately, since they tend to think about race and ethnicity as similar things and as a result often pick “some other race” or leave the question blank.

Under the revisions, people will also have the option to go into greater detail about their background. For instance, people who say they are Asian can also detail, whether they’re Chinese or Vietnamese.

Some information in this report came from the Associated Press.