It’s one of the most confusing parts of the Census, and it looks like could finally go away: Pew Research Center is reporting that the Census is considering dropping “race” from its 2020 survey.
Right now, the Census separates “race” from “Hispanic origin.” As Pew itself recently reported, Hispanics themselves, not to mention most other people, use the term interchangeably. The Census seems to have realized this.
“Federal policy defines ‘Hispanic’ not as a race, but as an ethnicity,” the group said. “And it prescribes that Hispanics can in fact be of any race. But these census findings suggest that standard U.S. racial categories might either be confusing or not provide relevant options for Hispanics to describe their racial identity.”
The Census also came around to this view as early as 2013.
“We recognize that race and ethnicity are not quantifiable values,” it said in a report published two years ago. “Rather, identity is a complex mix of one’s family and social environment, historical or socio-political constructs, personal experience, context, and many other immeasurable factors.”
Politico's Nick Gass was the first to spot the Pew report.
Here’s what the new form might look like. In addition to replacing both the words “race” and “origin” with “category,” it would allow allow respondents to pick multiple categories.
And here's what the 2010 form looks like:
Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, says the move, if approved, is long overdue.
“Combining race and Hispanic origin into a single question—with a multiple-checkoff option—is a change whose time has come,” he told Fusion in an email. “And adding a ‘Middle Eastern or North African’ category, if the testing supports it, is also a positive development, because these people have had trouble fitting themselves into the current scheme.”
But Cohen did have one critique of the prospective new form provided by Pew:
“I am concerned about using a single-word ‘Asian’ option, because some immigrants from countries in Asia may not identify with that term,” he said. “So I hope they have figured out a way to continue collecting national-origin information about people from Asia.”
But he explained why it was still important to ask people about their backgrounds — something other countries, like France, do not do.
“Dropping the word ‘race’ is a good idea if their testing shows this merely confuses people,” he said. “There is no good way to ask these questions, but it is important that we do, because race/ethnic inequality and discrimination persist, and we need to be able to measure and evaluate them.”
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.