In the past couple months, several users have asked for clarification on how data are reported on race and ethnicity. I also recently participated on a panel for the KidsCount release by the Connecticut Association of Human Services that focused on disaggregating data by race and ethnicity to better understand the inequities that exist among our residents.


On ctdata.org, we provide the data as collected by the original source. So for example, datasets that come from the U.S. Census American Community Survey -- such as demographic and population datasets-- all follow the 1997 Office of Management and Budget standards.


These standards for race are as follows:

  • White – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.
  • Black or African American – A person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.
  • Asian – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.


The standards for ethnicity are as follows:

  • Hispanic, Latino or Spanish
  • Non-Hispanic


People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race.


In our Census datasets we have the following categories for race:

  • White Alone
  • Black or African American alone
  • American Indian or Alaskan Native alone
  • Asian Alone
  • Native Hawaiian or other pacific islander alone
  • Some other race alone (interesting fact: third largest race category in the nation in 2010 Census after white alone and black alone. Respondents of Hispanic origin comprised the vast majority of all people classified as Some Other Race alone)
  • Two or more races alone


Ethnicity

  • White alone, not Hispanic or Latino
  • Hispanic or Latino

Brief Historical Perspective on collecting race data in the Census

Prior to 1960, an individual’s race was determined by census takers. After 1960, people could select their own race and it was not until 2000 that Americans could choose more than one race to describe themselves, allowing for an estimate of the nation’s multiracial population.

As we approach the 2020 Census, major revisions to the race question are being considered.

When both race and ethnicity questions are asked there is a high non-response rate and either race or ethnicity or both fields are left blank. This is a known problem for the census and in our work at the CT Data Collaborative, we’ve heard it from nonprofit providers throughout the state.  

During the 2010 Census, the largest quantitative effort ever on how people identify their race and ethnicity was conducted. The study mailed experimental questionnaires to a sample of 488,604 households, re-interviewed respondents and conducted 67 focus groups across the United States and in Puerto Rico with nearly 800 people.

The study tested several versions of an experimental combined question on race and Hispanic origin. The current OMB classification treats race and Hispanic origin as two separate and distinct concepts. During the 2010 Census, most households received a census form with separate questions for Hispanic origin and race in accordance with these guidelines but a  sample of households received questionnaires with an experimental, combined question.

The results showed that a higher number of individuals were more likely to respond to a combined race and Hispanic origin question than to separate questions. The experimental combined questions had a non-response rate, meaning the percentage of respondents leaving that question blank, of roughly 1 percent, compared to 3.5 percent to 5.7 percent for the race question and 4.1 percent to 5.4 percent for the Hispanic origin question.

The population reporting Some Other Race alone was as high as 7.1 percent on the separate race question and roughly 0.2 percent on the combined questions. However, the percent of the population who identified as Hispanic was not significantly different across questionnaires, indicating that the total proportion of Hispanics was not reduced in a combined question approach.

For an interesting historical perspective on how race has been measured since 1790 check out this graphic.


Given the results of the tested combined question conducted during the 2010 Census, it's worth a consideration for nonprofits and social service providers to consider asking a combined race and ethnicity question to see if non-response rates decrease. When establishing the questions, remember that:

  • People should be able to choose more than one race group.
  • People of any race may be of any ethnic origin