Monday, June 17, 2024

New Census Question in 2020

The first census conducted in 1790 only counted three categories of “race.”  They were white, black, and red.  Fast forward to the most recent census and the amount of choices not only for race, but ethnicity and nationality seem to have exploded.

Many people are left confused and some even question why the government should have to ask these questions at all.  The Hispanic community, with two questions directed at it, the “Hispanic question” and the “race question” faced a unique situation when filling out the census questionnaire this year causing confusion for many.

Many Hispanics reject the standard race question categories and write in something to the “some other race” response.  During the 2010 census, in order to reduce ambiguity surrounding the race and Hispanic questions the Census Bureau surveyed thousands of households to test different formats for these questions.  Plans are also in place to conduct over 50 focus groups around the country and Puerto Rico.  At the conclusion there is a possibility that the whole race and ethnicity questions may be combined into just one without the mention of “race” at all.

Kenneth Prewitt, a professor at Columbia University who directed the U.S. Census in2000, proposes using just one open-ended question regarding “race” and ethnicity in the 2020 Census.  The question is “What national origin, ethnicity, tribe, language group or ancestry do you consider yourself to be? (List all those important to you.)”

This is a controversial proposition as it may provide a better way to count Latinos and other racial-ethnic minorities or weaken the federal government’s racial-ethnic classification system and civil rights enforcement.

“A statistical portrait of how different groups are faring remains necessary both to erase the inequities of historical racism and to prevent discrimination as the recently arrived strive to participate fully in their new country,” says Prewitt.

“This open question finally erases the 18th century racial hierarchy, dispenses with the slippery term race itself, easily allows self-expression and can happily embrace multiple identities,” says Prewitt.

The format of this question allows for the distinction between “10th generation descendents of enslaved people from Africa’s Gold Coast” to “a recently arrived Ethiopian,” according to Prewitt.  It is very important to make these distinctions because answers can be categorized in the various ways that make sense depending on public purposes at hand.

A question on immigration status, “where were you born, and where were your parents born,” should also supplement the open-ended question says Prewitt.

“This question, combined with the one above, tells us how immigrant status interacts with national origin, ethnicity or language group, so that we can eliminate barriers as 21st century newcomers follow the path marked out by Italians and Irish a century ago, or Germans and Swedes a century earlier,” said Prewitt.

Even though Prewitt says that the current atmosphere is too political for a national dialogue on racial classification, he still believes that a color-blind society might arrive one day when everyone simply writes “American” by choice.

USA Today



  1. I only mark the Hispanic category. The less work I have to do the better.

  2. The new question would be great. I could write EXACTLY how I view myself and not only pick from a narrow list of categories the government has deemed the only worthy ones of going on the census.