The White Population Count Could Decrease Under a New Biden Proposal
Silvia Foster-Frau, Washington Post, January 30, 2023
For years, the Census Bureau has counted people of Middle Eastern and North African descent (also known as MENA) as White, obscuring their numbers and rendering them largely invisible, advocates say.
Last week, the Biden administration submitted a preliminary proposal to better account for the country’s MENA and Latino populations in the census. The Middle Eastern and North African population would be recognized as a distinct ethnic identity for the first time. And Latinos would be able to identify as such without having to also identify as a separate race, such as Black or White.
The proposal could change how race and ethnicity are measured across the country, from statewide and local records on police violence to health disparity data. This type of demographic data also informs decisions on redistricting and the distribution of government assistance.
According to the 2020 Census, the United States is 59 percent White, nearly 19 percent Hispanic, 13 percent Black and 6 percent Asian.
The proposed changes for the 2030 census could further reduce the White population count and reflect the country’s increasingly diverse makeup.
“Federal race and ethnicity standards are inherently complex because they seek to capture dynamic and fluid sociopolitical constructs,” the Office of Management and Budget said in the proposal released Friday. In the years since census standards were last revised, “there have been large societal, political, economic, and demographic shifts in the United States.”
The public can offer written comments on the proposal until April 12. The administration said in a statement that it aims to finish the revisions by the summer of 2024. “The recommendations are preliminary — not final,” the statement said.
“I can’t stress enough how much it will change everything,” said Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute, which has been advocating for Middle Eastern and North African people to have their own ethnic category on the census for more than four decades.
“We need data in our communities to be able to defend them, to be able to provide services for them, and the census is the source of all that,” she said. “If you’re rendered invisible in census data there’s going to be real consequences to people’s lives.”
Arab Americans have been targeted by political leaders during moments of political tension — for example, after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. But without fair representation in the census, which is often used to design community programs and determine federal funding, they don’t receive adequate government help, Berry said.
The recent efforts to rewrite the census survey mirror a nation adapting to a demographic makeup that looks much different than when it was founded, said Rogelio Sáenz, a demographer and professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
It “reflects in a broader context the extent to which this country has long seen race relations in terms of Black, White, period,” Sáenz said. But the Biden administration’s proposal is a recognition of a “greater degree of diversity” in the country.