“Census race categories increasingly fail to reflect how people see themselves”

From the Washington Post:

When results of the 2020 Census were released over the summer, nearly 50 million U.S. residents had checked a box for “Some Other Race” — an increase of 129 percent from a decade ago. The nation’s population is becoming more diverse, and demographers say people are marking that box because government categories for race are increasingly out of step with the ways people identify themselves.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that based on 1997-era standards,the form asks about race and Hispanic origin in two separate questions. The race question offers choices that pinpoint some identities with granular specificity while lumping others into broad categories that span continents and skin tones.

For Hispanics, identifying themselves on the census questionnaire can be especially bewildering. Hispanic is not one of the race choices, as it is not considered a racial category, but many respondents miss that nuance.

In 2020, over 15 percent of all respondents marked Some Other Race, either alone or in combination with another race; the vast majorityof them were Hispanic.That made Some Other Race the second-largest “alone or in combination” group in the country, edging out “Black or African American,” and leaving demographers with increasingly imprecise information about who lives in America.

“It’s very confusing,” said William Frey, a Brookings Institution senior demographer who studies diversity. “If you say you’re Hispanic, they [then] ask you to fill out a race question, and many people say, ‘I’ve already filled it out — I’m Hispanic.’ The distinction between ethnicity and race is something that most people don’t make.”…

One reason it is so hard to classify people by race and ethnicity is that the categories are subjective and not scientific, said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at Pew Research Center. “These are social constructs. There’s nothing inherently biological about race,” he said. “What is viewed as Black at one point in time may not line up with what is viewed as Black at another point in time.”

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