CENSUS POLITICS

While it has been predicted for some time, Reuters reports that the US Census Bureau has made it official: Hispanics have overtaken blacks as the top racial/ethnic minority. While this has some interesting political ramifications, it also creates some practical and definitional ones as well.

As the Census Bureau itself notes:

  • Race and Hispanic origin are two separate concepts in the federal statistical system.
    • People who are Hispanic may be of any race.
    • People in each race group may be either Hispanic or Not Hispanic.
    • Each person has two attributes, their race (or races) and whether or not they are Hispanic.
  • Overlap of race and Hispanic origin is the main comparability issue.
    • For example, Black Hispanics (Hispanic Blacks) are included in both the number of Blacks and in the number of Hispanics.
    • “More than one race” option increases possible numbers and overlapping groups.
    • For example, the three categories of Blacks, Hispanics, and people reporting two or more races produce multiple overlapping groups.
  • The complete cross tabulation of race and Hispanic origin data is problematic.
    • This option allows experienced users to tailor data for their specific use, but can confuse general users.
    • Comparability of data on race and Hispanic origin is affected by several other factors.
  • The universe differs across sources (censuses, national surveys, postcensal population estimates).
    • The allocation of “Some other race” responses from the Census 2000 category to standard OMB race categories increases the totals for each race, but does not affect the number of Hispanics.
    • The “Two or more races” category is present in Census 2000 and in the postcensal population estimates, but not in the 2002 Current Population Survey (CPS). It will be in the CPS every year, beginning with 2003.
  • So, while collecting this data is interesting from a social science and racial politics standpoints, it is quickly becoming outmoded and silly. At some point in the near future, we may just quit collecting this data altogether, as the politics of reporting it will outweigh the political benefits of exploiting these statistics.

    FILED UNDER: Race and Politics
    James Joyner
    About James Joyner
    James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.