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Groups want next census to identify racial and ethnic subgroups

The official U.S. Census form, pictured on March

The official U.S. Census form, pictured on March 18, 2010 in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images / Paul J. RIchards

Civil rights groups Monday called on the U.S. Census Bureau to "collect and publish the most detailed, accurate data possible for all race and ethnicity groups" by capturing more information from subgroups.

The groups' call comes as the bureau embarks on testing revised race and ethnicity questions next year in preparation for the 2020 census.

"Given the unprecedented growth in our nation's diversity, it's more important than ever that the next census collect detailed data that illuminate the lives of all Americans and give policymakers the tools necessary to understand and address the disparate needs of all communities," said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Washington-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Leadership Conference Education Fund.

He said census data was important for political reapportionment, to monitor compliance with civil rights laws and to funnel federal dollars to communities for a variety of needs.

The Leadership Conference released a report, authored by the conference's consultant, Terri Ann Lowenthal, yesterday containing 17 recommendations for enhancing the Census Bureau's data collection, and held a media conference call along with several interest groups.

The report advocated the bureau collect more detailed data on African-Americans and Middle Eastern/North African communities, and test adding a new ethnicity category for Middle Eastern/North Africans, which the bureau plans to do.

The report also suggested the bureau test revised race and ethnicity questions in languages other than English and Spanish to learn how others respond.

In response to the report, Census Bureau Director John Thompson said in a statement, "A growing number of people find the current race and ethnic categories confusing, or they wish to see their own specific group reflected on the census." He said the bureau "remains committed" to researching more accurate approaches and was having "ongoing discussions" with statistical agencies and many population groups on the issue.

Samer Khalaf, national president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said a new category for the Middle Eastern/North African population was needed for greater accuracy. He said the 1.8 million the last census counted was surely an undercount, with "reliable" estimates putting that population at 3.5 million to 4 million.

"We are not able to get sufficient funding to address our unique needs" without better numbers, he said.

Rosalind Gold, senior director of policy, research and advocacy for the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund, said while "We don't have consensus in our community on this issue of identity . . . Any format the census uses has to achieve an overall accurate and full count of Latinos as a whole."

Terry Ao Minnis, director of census and voting programs for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said Asians were erroneously seen as a "homogeneous" group, but were in fact "very diverse. Some of the most disadvantaged are rendered invisible to policymakers," she said in urging for more checkoff boxes for Asians to identify their subgroups.

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