By on 12.1.14 in Carolina Demographics

Are you planning for 2020? The U.S. Census Bureau is.

Research and testing for the content and delivery of the 2020 Census have been underway since 2012. Not only is the Bureau testing methods to improve response rates and reduce costs, they are also examining how to structure the questionnaire to best capture changing conceptions of identity and changing household types. John Thompson, the U.S. Census Bureau Director, recently wrote:

“One challenge we face is how Americans view race and ethnicity differently than in decades past. In our diverse society, a growing number of people find the current race and ethnic categories confusing, or they wish to see their own specific group reflected on the census. The Census Bureau remains committed to researching approaches that more accurately measure and reflect how people self-identify their race and ethnic origin.”

Ben Casselman at FiveThirtyEight notes that much of the discussions about Census categories can seem like “academic distinction[s], but there are significant real-world implications, too. The government uses census data to help draw congressional boundaries, protect voting rights and allocate federal grant dollars. Researchers use it to track discrimination and social trends. And advocacy groups use it to secure political influence.” Additionally, the decennial census serves as a benchmark for the U.S. Census Bureau’s population estimates (which are key for the American Community Survey) and other data products produced by federal agencies, such as health statistics from the Centers for Disease Control.

Concerns about the collection of race and ethnicity data are long-standing. And while some argue that the U.S. Census Bureau should remove questions on race entirely, this is unlikely to happen. Like the “10 [questions] in 2010,” the 2020 Census will be a short-form questionnaire, yet these few questions provide rich data that will be used in some form until the 2030 census is conducted. Last week, Ben Casselman wrote three articles on FiveThirtyEight that addressed changes that the U.S. Census Bureau is considering for the 2020 Census:

Some of the changes considered align very closely with recommendations proffered by Kenneth Prewitt, a former director of the Census Bureau, in a 2013 New York Times opinion piece, and would provide a richer data set. (As a researcher, I am very enthusiastic about more data at small geographies!).

More information on the Census Bureau’s data on race is available here.