NYT: Counting by Race Presents Challenges to Uniformity in Data Collection

When it comes to keeping racial statistics, the nation is in transition and often moving without uniformity, which affects important issues.

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The New York Times is reporting that complications can arise when data are collected about racial groups, specifically in terms of how people of mixed race are counted. The categories that were originally created for collecting data on race and ethnicity were designed to record one racial- and ethnic-group identity. Multiracial Americans are identifying themselves by checking a variety of boxes, which complicates data used to address important issues, such as assessing disparities in health, education, employment and housing; enforcing civil rights protections; and deciding who might qualify for special consideration as members of underrepresented minority groups.

The number of mixed-race Americans is rising rapidly, largely because of increases in immigration and intermarriage in the past two decades. One in seven new marriages is now interracial or interethnic. Despite the federal government's setting standards more than a decade ago, data on race and ethnicity are being collected and aggregated in an assortment of ways. The lack of uniformity is making comparison and analysis extremely difficult across fields and across time.

An example given in the article is that students of non-Hispanic mixed parentage who choose more than one race will be placed in a "two or more races" category, a catchall that detractors describe as inadequately detailed. A child of black and American Indian parents, for example, would be in the same category as, say, a child of white and Asian parents. While the children are very different racially and ethnically, they would be identified as the same.

The standards were established years ago and need to be updated or modified to ensure that data collection is as uniform as possible to ensure validity. A new method or form of measurement needs to be developed or applied. These agencies have their work cut out for them.

Read more at the New York Times.

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