A Close Race

By Published on .

In an attempt to mirror the face of the American populace, the U.S. Census Bureau will change how it collects data on race for Census 2000. For the first time, Americans will be able to identify themselves as more than one race on the census form, choosing from 12 check boxes and three write-in spaces.

And they can check as many boxes as they want, says the Census Bureau. The 1990 Census identified nearly 1,000 unique racial and ethnic codes, which included nearly 400 American Indian tribes, hundreds of detailed Asian and Pacific Islander groups, and many more self-identified nationalities. But because multiple races will be allowed in 2000, Jorge del Pinal, assistant chief for special population statistics of the U.S. Census, says there will probably be enough unique combinations that everyone in the United States could have their own unique race.

Yet, based on results from the Census Bureau's 2000 dress rehearsal, it's unlikely that many people will check more than one box. In fact, in the dress rehearsal site of Sacramento, California, only 5.4 percent of residents, or 21,965 people, reported being of more than one race. Most of the multiracial residents (91.6 percent) said they were biracial. Only 7.6 percent said they were triracial and 0.8 percent said they were a mix of four or more races.

Marketers can't wait to get their hands on the new data. "I think it's something that is really essential for us and for agencies like us to be able to do our job more effectively," says Sam Chisholm, CEO of The Chisholm-Mingo Group, a multicultural marketing firm. "We live by Census information. The better that information is, the better the communication strategies we will be able to develop."

The complexity of the data means that there probably will be several ways in which the Census Bureau presents numbers on race, del Pinal says. One planned method counts a person once for each and every race they claim. For example, a respondent who claims to be both White and Asian would be counted once as White and once as Asian. Of course, with this method, the total of all races would equal more than 100 percent of the actual U.S. population. To eliminate this problem, the agency also plans to report tallies for the six main racial categories (White; Black; American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian; Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; and Other) and all possible combinations of the six. In this case, a person who claims to be "White and Asian" would be counted only once under the "White and Asian" category and nowhere else. At press time, there was no plan to report numbers in a way that will be comparable to past Census race data. Says del Pinal: "Some people may desire a bridging method in order to compare back to 1990, but there's no agreement at this point as to what that should be."

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