This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's Your Label?

As the population of the United States has become increasingly diverse, the Census Bureau has added to the list of categories that you might label yourself in terms of "race" or "ethnicity." As you might expect, a lot of people don't want to be pigeon-holed in the way that the Census Bureau had in mind. The Associated Press had a look at some of the responses that people had to the 2010 census:

When the 2010 census asked people to classify themselves by race, more than 21.7 million — at least 1 in 14 — went beyond the standard labels and wrote in such terms as "Arab," "Haitian," "Mexican" and "multiracial."
The unpublished data, the broadest tally to date of such write-in responses, are a sign of a diversifying America that's wrestling with changing notions of race.
The figures show most of the write-in respondents are multiracial Americans or Hispanics, many of whom don't believe they fit within the four government-defined categories of race: white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander or American Indian/Alaska Native. Because Hispanic is defined as an ethnicity and not a race, some 18 million Latinos used the "some other race" category to establish a Hispanic racial identity.
This latter point is not news, as it turns out. In every census since 1980, when the Census Bureau started asking this question, people of Latin American origin have been the vast majority of people who have indicated "some other race" beyond the ones listed on the census form.
More than three million write-ins came from white and black Americans who appear to have found the standard race categories insufficient. They include Arabs, Iranians and Middle Easterners, who don't fully view themselves as "white" and have lobbied in the past to be a separate race category. They are also Italians, Germans, Haitians and Jamaicans who consider ancestry a core part of who they are.
This is one of the problems of the separation of the short form from the American Community Survey. The latter includes questions about ancestry, where people can let that hang out, whereas the short form does not.
Roughly half a million black Americans — between 1 and 2 percent of their total population — wrote in answers to signify their preferred term for black. Among them: African-American, Afro-American, African, Negro, mulatto, brown and coffee. More than 36,000 described themselves as "Negro" in whole or in part. The term, which was listed as an example on the 2010 census form, drew criticism from some black groups for being outdated and insensitive.
While the issue of racial identity can be deeply individual, it is also highly political: census data are used to enforce anti-discrimination laws, to distribute more than $400 billion in federal aid for roads, schools and health care, and to draw political districts based in part on a community's racial makeup. Over the past decade, the number of people identifying as "some other race" jumped by 3.7 million, or 24 percent. Experts say an increase in the write-in responses could signify limitations to the form and potentially skew government counts.
In an interview, Census Bureau officials said they have been looking at ways to improve responses to the race question based on focus group discussions during the 2010 census. The research, some of which is scheduled to be released later this year, examines whether to include new write-in lines for whites and blacks who wish to specify ancestry or nationality; whether to drop use of the word "Negro" from the census form as antiquated; and whether to possibly treat Hispanics as a mutually exclusive group to the four main race categories.

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