WASHINGTON D.C — This week the U.S. Census Bureau made an announcement that they are in the process of working on expanding their ethnicity categories for the 2020 census. During the last count held in 2010, the Bureau sampled an alternative survey to a small group of people which gave them the opportunity to detail their ethnicity and ancestry. The results from this sampling, according to the census, was a lot more successful in identifying individuals ethnicities.
|AThe alternative questionnaire that |
was sampled during the 2010 Census provided the Bureau with better results than the official form. The Census is working on a similar form that will expand on the race categories for the 2020 Census.
The new survey tested is more open and gives the individual the opportunity to detail their origin with a write-in option. Under the "White" category for example, the alternative survey also asks the individual to write-in a specific origin after selecting the "white" box. The questionnaire specifically states: "Print origin(s), for example, German, Irish, Lebanese, Egyptian, and so on."
For the "Black" category, a similar method is used, asking participants to write in a specific origin if they selected that box, citing African American and Nigerian as examples. The same was also applied for the Hispanic, Asian and Native categories, specifically citing examples of nationalities next to the check boxes.
It's quite a drastic change from the survey that was received by the majority of the population during the 2010 census. On that survey, the first question asked is if the individual is of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin, with multiple sub-options to check the specific nationality (Puerto Rican, Cuban and Mexican were listed below that). For those that selected "no" on that survey, there was then a question below that, asking for the person's race, with White, Black, Native and "some other race" being the options.
Samer Araabi, the Government Relations Manager of the Arab American Institute (AAI), the Washington based civil and political organization, states that if the census moves forward with the new options, then they would be able to obtain more accurate information on the Arab American community, as Arabs would be encouraged to write in their nationality if they see "Lebanese" and "Egyptian" listed as examples. He says in prior decades, the census would always classify Arab Americans under the white category, even if participants selected the 'other' checkbox and wrote in their origin.
"For communities like us, which are relatively small and concentrated, there's always a significant undercount. We've been dealing with an undercount for quite some time now. We actually believe that the Arab community is probably double than what the census has accounted for," Araabi stated. "Historically, in the 80's and 90's if an Arab American identified themselves in the “other” categories, the census would always dump them back into the 'white' category and the information would get lost."
Specifically, a major set-back for the 2010 census was that many groups of people ended up selecting the "some other race" category, which was originally meant to serve as a last resort option for individuals filling out the forms. Instead, the "some other race" option became the third most selected category, coming in right after the “White” and “Black” options.
The census saw this as a sign that perhaps the survey's weren't detailed enough for people to specify their origins. Alternative versions were created and tested to see if they could get better results from participants that were filling them out. A re-adjustment on the surveys for the 2020 census seems to be the goal for the census at this point.
"As new immigrant groups came to this country decade after decade, how we measure ethnicity changed to reflect the changing composition of the country," said Census Director Robert Groves. "Since that change is never ending and America gets more and more diverse, how we understand and tabulate the information has to be continually open to change."
The alternative survey also showed that people were more willing to completely fill out the options instead of leaving them blank or selecting "other," as they were doing on the official survey.
But not all Arab-Americans would be on board if the census forms are remodeled for 2020. Samia El-Badry, a renowned Arab Sociologist and Demographer with a PhD, states that this is not the right time for Arabs to be specifically identified, citing the current political climate.
“Given the present stance on terrorism, the war to eliminate a president of an Arab nation and the uneducated fear of the Muslim religion, this is not a time for us to have an Arab American category on any government form,” El-Badry told the media earlier this week. “Arab Americans fear being rounded up. While a box for “Arab” was pursued for many years under the stance of fairness and accuracy of data collection, right now is not the time to pursue it. By definition, the race question has white, and hence that is where we fit in.”
Despite El-Badry's stance on the new direction, it does seem the majority of the Arab-American community would definitely consider this as a step in the right direction. The AAI believes that if the alternative survey is used in the future, the results could be beneficial for multiple reasons.
"This particular version that they are running is much more open and gives way more opportunities to self report ethnic ancestral race identities. We are hoping that they do adopt the alternative questionnaire, it will just be better in retrieving information in our community...It will also be good for political outreach because we will be able to see how many Arabs are in certain districts, so the more they can gather this information, the better," Araabi added.
The census seems pretty optimistic that this is the route they will be taking in the future. While the official form for the 2020 census is not expected to be selected for quite some time, the census stated in a recent press release that they will spend more time evaluating the research and collaborating with statistical agencies to constitute the best methods in the future.