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Power and the People The U.S. Census and Who Counts

Latinx & Ethnicity

The Census Bureau uses the race and ethnicity categories established by the Whitehouse Office of Management and Budget in 1997. Under these rules, Hispanic/Latino is not a race, but an ethnicity, and includes anyone with origins from the Caribbean, Central or South America -- except Brazil(!) Hispanic/Latinx people can be one or more of the following races: White, Black, Native American, Asian, or Pacific Islander, or any combination of these races. , Many in the Latinx community do not feel they fit into any of the five racial categories and in Census 2010 so many rejected all five categories that “Some Other Race” became the third largest category after “Black” and “White.”

Since the 1930s, the counting of Hispanic/Latinx people has been complicated not only by the Census rules, but also the Census’ approach to outreach among non-English speaking communities. The 1970 Census brought this to light by undercounting Hispanics/Latinos in the southwestern states, including California. Since then, the Census Bureau has issued forms in multiple languages to prevent a similar undercount.

We found that the Bureau's procedures have been insensitive to the Spanish speaking background population…Further, the Bureau provided inadequate assistance to Spanish speaking households for them to respond accurately to the census questionnaire.

– Counting the forgotten: the 1970 Census count of persons of Persons of Spanish speaking background in the United States. United States Commi

Measuring Race and Ethnicity Across the Decades, 1790-2010

The Census Bureau uses the race and ethnicity categories established by the White House Office of Management and Budget in 1997. While there are only 5 races, there are only two ethnicities: “Hispanic or Latino” or “Not Hispanic or Latino.” Given these limitations, how do we determine the number of Laotions, or Polish, or any other racial or ethnic group in a given area? The Census classifies this information two different ways: subgroups within the main race group and ancestry. These two categories contain over 500 ethnic and ancestral groups combined, and it is here where new and seasoned researchers can discover the broad ethnic and cultural tapestry that make up the United States.