US Considers Adding Middle Eastern-North African Category to 2020 Census

Jeff Karoub, US News, January 30, 2015

The federal government is considering allowing those of Middle Eastern and North African descent to identify as such on the next 10-year census, which could give Arab-Americans and other affected groups greater political clout and access to public funding, among other things.

The U.S. Census Bureau will test the new Middle East-North Africa (MENA) classification for possible inclusion on the 2020 census if it gets enough positive feedback about the proposed change by Sunday, when the public comment period ends.

Arab-Americans, who make up the majority of those who would be covered by the MENA classification, have previously been classified by default as white on the census, which helps determine congressional district boundaries and how billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated, among other things.


The Census Bureau plans to test it later this year by holding focus group discussions with people who would be affected by the proposed change. Congress would still have to sign off on the proposal before the change could be added to the 2020 census.


Arabs have been coming to America in large numbers since the late 19th century and their ranks have grown in recent decades due to wars and political instability in the Middle East, with many settling in and around Detroit, New York and Los Angeles. The Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey, which had a sample size of about 3 million addresses, estimated that 1.5 million people were of Arab ancestry in 2006-10.


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