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Meng Urges Update to Race and Ethnicity Data Collection Standards in Time for 2020 Census

Dec 11, 2017
Press Release
WASHNGTON, D.C. – In an effort to collect more accurate and complete data on race and ethnicity for the 2020 Census, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) urged Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney to revise outdated federal standards for data collection as soon as possible. The Census Bureau must submit final questions for the 2020 Census to Congress by March 31, 2018, so any change to federal data collection standards must be made immediately to allow the Census Bureau sufficient time to respond.
“I cannot overstate the importance of accurate and reliable Census data, particularly concerning race and ethnicity,” said Meng. “This data is used in everything from how we allocate federal resources to how we determine the distribution of congressional seats. Research shows that shifting from a two-question approach on race and ethnicity to a one-question approach would improve data collection and lead to more reliable and more accurate results. OMB should adopt this more comprehensive approach so that government at all levels can better serve every community.”
OMB is directed by statute to coordinate the U.S. Federal statistical system, including establishing standards and guidance for data collection and dissemination, and reviewing agency compliance with the standards. OMB has a limited number of Statistical Policy Directives that clarify minimum requirements for agencies when they collect statistical information. Statistical Policy Directive No. 15, Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Records, concerns standards for collecting data on race and ethnicity. It was last updated in 1997.   
Meng requested that OMB implement a single, comprehensive question on race and ethnicity within its Statistical Policy Directive No. 15. Census Bureau research shows that a single, comprehensive question leads to much better data collection than the current two-question approach that first asks a question about Hispanic ethnicity, followed by a second question on racial identification. The research shows a distinct mismatch between Latino identification and the current Census question sequence and race categories. More than 43% of Latinos chose “Some other race” or did not answer the race question in the 2010 decennial Census. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders also face mismatches with self-identification and a larger problem of a lack of disaggregated data. The current two-question approach only includes listed race categories of “Asian Indian” and “Other Asian” with an option to write in a more specific race.
In 2015, the Census performed the National Content Test (NCT), an extensive evaluation of the content of the Census questionnaire. NCT tested the traditional two-question approach to race and ethnicity as well as a comprehensive one-question approach that asked for both racial and Hispanic ethnicity identification through a single question. The single question was found to be the most optimal question format to gather data.
A copy of the correspondence can be found here.
Supporting organizations of the letter include:
  • American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
  • Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC
  • Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
  • Fair Elections Legal Network
  • Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
  • NALEO Educational Fund
  • National Immigration Law Center
  • National LGBTQ Task Force