Although the 2020 US Census is still five years away, the U.S. Census Bureau must make final decisions about the design, methodology, and content of the next census soon. So civil rights organizations are already compiling recommendations to make sure that communities of color are counted correctly.
“The Census Bureau must ensure that any changes to these questions do not diminish the quality and accuracy of data used for civil rights purposes,” warned the authors of Race and Ethnicity in the 2020 Census: Improving Data to Capture a Multiethnic America. The report also argues that good data is critical for implementing, monitoring, and evaluating civil rights laws, “from fair political representation and voting reforms, to equal opportunity and access across all economic and social sectors of society, including housing, education, health care, and the job market.”
“We cannot afford to go backwards,” said Terry Ao Minnis, Director of Census and Voting Programs for Asian Americans Advancing Justice – AAJC, who warned that for Asian Americans, combining race and ethnicity questions and removing detailed check boxes for ethnicity would decrease and discourage race reporting, especially for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
Issues of access also affect the quality of data collected. Asian American communities — especially the elderly or low-income — are more likely to fill out a paper census than a digital one, need the census translated into more languages, and need the support of community partners for census education.
Without robust detailed data about the Asian-American community, experts warn the experiences of many ethnic subgroups could be lost in the aggregation of data, resulting in consequences such as loss of districts qualifying for bilingual ballots guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act.
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