Race/Ethnicity and the 2020 Census

Participating in the decennial census presents an important opportunity for us to stand up, be counted, and tell our stories. For many Americans, the story of where we come from and who we are is inextricably linked to race/ethnicity.

The U.S. Census Bureau asks individuals about race/ethnicity according to guidelines established by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Last updated in 1997, the race/ethnicity questions from Census 2010 and Census 2020 are shown below. There are two big picture takeaways:

  1. The OMB definitions of race and ethnicity in Census 2020 will remain consistent with Census 2010. This includes Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin, which will remain an ethnicity, not a race.

  2. While race/ethnicity definitions will remain consistent, Census 2020 will feature an important change.

    • Individuals who identify as White, Black/African American, and/or American Indian or Alaska Native will be asked to specifically identify their racial origins.

      • As outlined in the planned Census 2020 question, Black/African American individuals, for example, will be asked to print their specific origin (e.g. African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somali, etc.). Write in options will still be available for “Other Asian” and “Some other race” categories.

The story of race/ethnicity and Census 2020 also includes technical, behind-the-scene specifics. Following several years of testing, in 2017 the Bureau recommended that OMB adopt the following definitional changes for race/ethnicity:

  1. Reassigning Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin to a racial category. This move would have ultimately collapsed the race/ethnicity questions into one question (i.e. race).

  2. Include a new race category for individuals identifying as Middle East and North African (MENA).

The OMB did not respond by December 31, 2017 to these recommendations, effectively forcing the Bureau to retain the race/ethnicity definitions used in Census 2010.

Read more about the U.S. Census Bureau’s research on race/ethnicity here.

2010: Race/Ethnicity questions  Source: U.S. Census Bureau

2010: Race/Ethnicity questions
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

2020: Planned Race/Ethnicity questions  Source: U.S. Census Bureau

2020: Planned Race/Ethnicity questions
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Jason Jurjevich