Blog / Data & Data Tools

OMB Expands Protocols for Federal Collection of Race and Ethnicity Data

by Aaron Yore-VanOosterhout
OMB Expands Protocols for Federal Collection of Race and Ethnicity Data
Want the latest updates, trends, and research delivered right to your inbox? Sign up for the Johnson Center’s email newsletter!

As you may have heard by now, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) recently released its decision on the proposed changes to federal race and ethnicity data standards, effective immediately (and months in advance of the expected decision). A few key points:

    • As expected, the separate race and ethnicity questions will be combined into a single question. Less expected is the OMB’s guidance on the stem question: “What is your race and/or ethnicity? Select all that apply.” The latter wasn’t part of their proposed change and has been added based on public comment the OMB received.
    • Also as expected, there are now seven minimum required categories, including “Middle Eastern or North African” (MENA).
    • A surprise is the OMB now “requires the collection of detailed data on race and ethnicity beyond the minimum categoriesby default. Any federal agency that wants only to collect the minimum seven required categories will have to apply for an exemption with justification. From the Federal Register:

“Respondents must be offered the following detailed categories for the corresponding minimum categories:

    • Asian: Chinese, Asian Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese, Another group (for example, Pakistani, Hmong, Afghan, etc.)
    • Black or African American: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somali, Another group (for example, Trinidadian and Tobagonian, Ghanaian, Congolese, etc.)
    • Hispanic or Latino: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Cuban, Dominican, Guatemalan, Another group (for example, Colombian, Honduran, Spaniard, etc.)
    • Middle Eastern or North African: Lebanese, Iranian, Egyptian, Syrian, Iraqi, Israeli, Another group (for example, Moroccan, Yemeni, Kurdish, etc.)
    • Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Tongan, Fijian, Marshallese, Another group (for example, Chuukese, Palauan, Tahitian, etc.)
    • White: English, German, Irish, Italian, Polish, Scottish, Another group (for example, French, Swedish, Norwegian, etc.)”

What this means for communities nationwide is a monumental step forward in visibility and the actionability of public data for more inclusive outcomes, but with significant concerns for problems ahead.

The Johnson Center is leading a network of partners encouraging the adoption of these same standards across the State of Michigan. We are committed to the critical importance of collecting and sharing data that truly reflects communities and can support equitable decision-making and action.

Public datasets — such as data available from the U.S. Census, the American Community Survey, health departments, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, etc. — are critically important sources of information for nonprofits, foundations, donors, and municipalities. This data is used to promote public health campaigns, build playgrounds and invest in schools, reach voters, offer job training, plan public transportation routes into isolated communities, and more. The more information we can derive from public data, the better we can understand and impact the everyday lives of whole communities.

The Johnson Center is working alongside distinguished partners at ACCESS (Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), the Michigan Nonprofit Association, the Council of Michigan Foundations, Detroit Future City, Data Driven Detroit, the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, Global Detroit, and others — with support from The Leadership Conference Education Fund (The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights) — to encourage and facilitate these changes.

For our partners at ACCESS, who have been advocating for MENA inclusion for decades, “collecting data on MENA communities would give our invisible community visibility when considering we have been historically underrepresented, underserved, and undercounted. In Michigan, collecting data on MENA communities would mean having equitable funding, identifying and addressing the unmet needs of MENA subgroups like the Arab community. It would mean having detailed data on race and ethnicity that could also be used to design and implement programs to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes.”

Other organizations rightly point to concerns that the new data collection may further some groups’ invisibility. As the AfroLatino Coalition recently reported, “By listing Latino ethnicity as co-equal with racial categories, Latinos are inaccurately portrayed as a population without racial differences despite all the research showing how Black Latinos are treated differently from other Latinos. Separating ethnicity from race is essential for making visible the actual and intersectional racial disparities that exist within a racially diverse ethnic group like Latinos in access to important public goods such as access to education, employment, housing, medical services, etc.”

With intentional data advocacy and partnership, change will come to Michigan’s data collection and that of other states around the country. Together we can ensure state governments take seriously both the needs and the concerns of the communities they represent.