Multiracial No Longer Boxed In by the Census

Haya El Nasser, USA Today, March 2, 2010

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This month, the Census Bureau will remind Americans that racial classifications remain an integral part of the country’s social and legal fabric while, at the same time, recognizing that racial lines are blurring for a growing number of people {snip}. The government will give the nation’s more than 308 million people the opportunity to define their racial makeup as one race or more.

The agency expects the number of people who choose multiple races to be significantly higher than the 2000 Census, when the government first allowed more than one race choice. Responses to this year’s survey will provide for the first time a glimpse at the evolution of racial identification: Those who were children in 2000 and were identified as one race by their parents may respond differently as adults today and select more than one.

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At the same time, growing ethnic and racial diversity fueled by record immigration and rates of interracial marriages have made the USA’s demographics far more complex. By 2050, there will be no racial or ethnic majority as the share of non-Hispanic whites slips below 50%, according to Census projections.

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Census forms on the way

2010 Census forms will arrive in more than 135 million households by the middle of March. Two of the 10 questions on the form will prompt soul-searching for some multiracial people such as Harvey and routine responses from millions of other Americans.

Question No. 8 asks if anyone in the household is Hispanic, Latino or of Spanish origin. That’s a question about ethnicity.

Question No. 9 asks the race of every person in the household–regardless of whether they’re Hispanic. The instructions specify “Mark one or more boxes.” Choices include white, black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

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Why does the government ask about race and ethnicity?

Federal agencies need the information to monitor compliance with anti-discrimination laws such as the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, fair employment practices and affirmative action mandates.

Only 2.3% of the population–about 7 million–identify themselves as being of more than one race, according to recent Census surveys. That figure has remained constant since 2000. But mixed-race marriages have jumped 20% since 2000 to 4.5 million, or 8% of the total.

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Jones agrees. “If the trends continue–rising number of interracial relationships and marriages, rising number of births (in) those relationships and increasing awareness of racial identity–we may see an increase” in people listing themselves as multiracial, he says.

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A biracial president

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The Census may never truly reflect the actual number of people in the USA who are of more than one race. That’s because responses are based on how people view themselves, how they think they are perceived or how they choose to be represented in the national count.

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Mixed marriages on the rise

Racial identity is increasingly muddled as the number of mixed-race unions grows:

o About three of 10 marriages involving Hispanics or Asians are now mixed-race, and almost one of six involving blacks are mixed race, according to an analysis by demographer Frey [William Frey, of the Brookings Institution].

o About 9% of marriages involving non-Hispanic whites are mixed.

o A 10th or more of all marriages in 13 states–most in the West–were mixed race in 2008.

o Thirty-six states had at least a 20% increase in mixed-race marriages since 2000, including Florida, Virginia and Texas. A fifth of marriages in California and New Mexico were mixed.

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The Census has a long-lasting effect on politics and money. Population counts every 10 years decide the number of seats every state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives and determine how more than $400 billion a year in federal aid is allocated.

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Surveys suggest that younger generations are much less concerned with race than older Americans, Harrison says.

“For the younger part of our society, race is going to be less of a factor when they decide partners, whom they’re going to church with, where they’re going to live,” Frey says. “It won’t be exactly color-blind but much more color-blind.”

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