Improving Our Nation’s Data on Race and Ethnicity


Written by: Nicholas Jones, Director of Race and Ethnic Research and Outreach

Since the 1970s, the Census Bureau has conducted decennial content tests to research and improve the design and function of different questions, including questions on race and ethnicity. As our population grows more diverse, we want to ensure that the data we collect accurately reflects how the people living in our country identify themselves.

Recently, the Census Bureau undertook a critical middecade study to test alternative versions of the race and ethnicity questions. The goal is to improve question design and data quality for the 2020 Census. Building on the foundation and successful strategies of the 2010 Census Alternative Questionnaire Experiment Research on Race and Hispanic Origin, the 2015 National Content Test is helping refine our previous efforts to address race and ethnicity reporting issues and important racial/ethnic community concerns.

During the 2015 National Content Test, we are focusing on three crucial goals for race and ethnicity:

  • Increasing the accuracy and reliability of reporting in major race/ethnic categories.
  • Lowering item nonresponse rates.
  • Collecting detailed data for myriad groups.

This research will enable the 2020 Census to provide critical racial and ethnicity statistics about our nation’s population. To learn more about the ongoing research, click here.

Outreach and Engagement Over the Past Year                                   

Coinciding with this extensive research, the Census Bureau continues ongoing engagement and discussions about race and ethnicity with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, federal statistical agencies and many stakeholder groups. Over the past year, our research team reached out to many stakeholders to make them aware of the 2015 National Content Test research plans, discussed their questions and obtained their feedback.

This ongoing outreach includes collaboration and dialogue with:

  • Office of Management and Budget and other federal agencies through interagency meetings.
  • Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights about redistricting.
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on comparing data trends.
  • White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on data disaggregation.
  • State Department on racial identity in the Americas.

Additionally, the agency engaged in dialogues with many other stakeholders, including:

  • The Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations.
  • Conferences with Afro-Latinos.
  • Summits with the National Congress of American Indians.
  • Briefings with congressional caucuses for Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders.
  • Legislative briefings with Caribbean-Americans.
  • Conferences with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
  • Forums with Middle Eastern and North African scholars.

We heard from thousands of individuals, organizations and community groups, and their feedback helped us with our research plans.

Next Steps

The results of the 2015 National Content Test, public feedback and continued dialogues with the Office of Management and Budget and external stakeholders and experts will guide the proposed race and ethnicity question design for the 2020 Census. The research seeks to improve data on race and ethnicity and inform recommendations to the Federal Interagency Working Group for Research on Race and Ethnicity, regarding the 1997 OMB Standards and Guidance on Race and Ethnicity. By early 2017, the 2020 Census topics must be submitted to Congress, with final question wording due the following year in April 2018.

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One Response to Improving Our Nation’s Data on Race and Ethnicity

  1. Alessa says:

    It’s really interesting to learn the amount of design and thought that goes into these surveys and censuses. It would appear on first glance to be an easy matter to ask people questions about their race and ethnicity and get answers in return, but the information you give shows how tricky it can be to get it right. It is important to design the best quality surveys possible for the best data.

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