New OMB race/ethnicity categories

Justin here. This is a really big deal: the federal government’s got new standards for collecting data on race and ethnicity.

The Office of Management and Budget has a sneak preview today of tomorrow’s update of “Statistical Policy Directive No. 15: Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity.” SPD 15 was initially developed in 1977 to help provide consistent data on race and ethnicity throughout the federal government, and drives all kinds of data collection in all kinds of contexts, including the Census, redistricting, and VRA claims. It was updated once in 1997, and this is a long-awaited version 3.0.

There are some big changes in the new standards, but the biggest include combining a question on Hispanic/Latino heritage along with other categories in one race-and-ethnicity question (the previous approach purported to separate race in one question and Hispanic/Latino ethnicity in another); adding a Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) category; and collecting detailed subgroup information within each category as a default.

Among other impacts, in applications like the Census and intercensal questionnaires, these standards will likely continue to help more accurately reveal how multiethnic we are. (Past methodology changes have already given us a far more accurate picture than we used to have: some of the country’s diversification is due to demographic change, but an awful lot is due to better capacity to recognize how diverse we already were, in ways hidden by our measurement instruments.) I’ve written a bit on this in the context of the Census, SPD 15, and the ways that our tools have changed over time.

There are variations available for specialty uses, but here’s what the standard new data collection will look like:

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