The Biden administration has implemented new race and ethnicity standards, including listing Hispanic or Latino as one race/ethnicity category and creating a checkbox for people of Middle Eastern or North African descent. Previously, Hispanics had to answer a two-part question about their identity, but the new changes allow individuals to check as many categories as apply to them. The addition of a Middle Eastern or North African identifier will provide around 7 to 8 million people the option to no longer identify as “white” or “other” on forms like the census. These updates mark the second change by the federal government to categories for data on the American population, with the last update occurring in 1997.

The new standards also aim to better capture the expanding multicultural identity of the nation. The Office of Management and Budget believes that these updated standards will lead to more useful, accurate, and up-to-date federal data on race and ethnicity. They will also allow for easier comparison of information and data across federal agencies, as well as a better understanding of how federal programs are serving a diverse America. These changes became effective on Thursday, and agencies have 18 months to develop compliance plans and up to five years to implement those plans. However, some agencies may choose to do so sooner than the given timeline.

Research from the 2020 census showed that most Hispanics did not identify as white, Black, or Asian, leading to the confusion around the two-part question previously used. The Pew Research Center analysis revealed that 42% of Hispanics marked “some other race,” with a third selecting two or more racial groups and 20% choosing white as their race. The new categories for Hispanic or Latino include subcategories such as Mexican, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Cuban, Dominican, Guatemalan, and others from Central or South American or Spanish backgrounds. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund praised the revised standards as a critical step in collecting more accurate data on the Latino community, although some concerns were raised about the prescriptive nature of the questions.

The updated race and ethnicity standards also eliminate derogatory terms and racist labels, while providing more detailed subcategories for identification. For example, Asian is now defined to include origins from Central or East Asia, Southeast Asia, or South Asia, and Black or African American now covers origins from Africa. The removal of the terms “majority” and “minority” also aims to provide a more inclusive and accurate representation of racial and ethnic groups. The Afro-Latino Coalition expressed concerns that the combined question may diminish the visibility of Black Latino populations, but research by the OMB showed slightly higher estimates of Afro Latino populations with the new standards.

These standards, developed by a working group from 35 agencies, received over 20,000 comments and feedback before being implemented. The group held various listening sessions, town halls, and consultations to ensure the revisions were comprehensive and inclusive. The creation of the Interagency Committee on Race and Ethnicity Statistical Standards will continue to research and evolve the standards, considering topics such as accurate data on Afro Latinos and descendants of enslaved people in the U.S. The impact of these updated standards goes beyond federal agencies, as they also affect researchers, local and state governments, nonprofit groups, and societal perspectives.

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