The US Census Asks About Race and Ethnicity: 1980–2020
This policy note examines the formulation and reformulation of questions deployed by the US Census Bureau to gather information on racial and ethnic origin in recent decades. The likely outcome for the 2020 Census is that two older questions on race and Hispanic origin will be combined into a single question on ethno-racial origin. The authors welcome these changes but suggest that this may also be an opportune time to drop the “race or origin” label from this new, unified question. They also argue for modest and readily implemented modifications to capture valuable information on parental birthplaces in the American Community Survey. This information would support our ability to measure the social and economic well-being of the population and thus better understand the trajectory of demographic groups over time.
This policy note is accompanied by Working Paper No. 857, “Ethno-Racial Origin in US Federal Statistics: 1980–2020,“ in which the authors explore these issues in greater detail.