Census Updates Survey For More Diverse America, Will Stop Using Word ‘Negro’

As the United States looks toward 2050, when people of color will make up a majority of the country’s residents, the government is changing its methods of measuring people’s racial and ethnic identities.

The Census Bureau announced yesterday that the next census will be updated to try to more accurately capture this data, adjusting the modernity and inclusiveness of its language. Particularly, it will give new options for Latinos and Middle Easterners.

The newer version of the survey will offer ‘Hispanic’ as a racial, instead of ethnic, option, and will allow for people to write in their race as Middle Eastern or North African. It will also stop using the term “Negro” and will instead give the option of Black/African-American. This change comes from an experiment on the last census — officials distributed differently-worded versions of the survey to see what kind of responses they elicited — and from focus group feedback.

Patricia Foxen, Deputy Director of Research at the National Council of La Raza, told ThinkProgress that the Census Bureau is just preparing for the eventuality that people who do not identify as white will soon be a majority of the US’s population.

“I think that [the Census bureau] is trying very, very hard to adapt to the changing demographic landscape, which is obviously getting more and more diverse, and much more complicated in terms of capturing all the different combinations,” Foxen said. “They’re making an attempt at not only doing that now, but thinking further into the future and setting up the questions so that we’re going in the right direction, and are better able to capture people of a growing range of ethnicities and races, and rapid growth in the mixed race category.”

Because the census determines federal funding allocation, it’s important to accurately capture this data, and to get the largest amount of information possible about who lives in the US.

“The main concern we have is that, if we want to reduce ethnic and racial disparities, we have to have as accurate as possible categories,” Foxen added. “If people don’t feel that their own identification and identity is being taken seriously by [the census], they’re not going to answer it in a way that very useful.”

Race will, indeed, become more complicated with the country’s shifting demographics. Recently, we reached the threshold where fewer than half of the babies born in the United States every year are white. In fact, the last census showed a huge jump in the number of interracial children — and that will rise as those children grow up and have their own families.

As that happens, the census categories will become less and less clear. People will move from checking one box to two, or three. Eventually, the labels will need to be reassessed again. For now, any changes in labels will help reflect our changing society.