ports have continued to focus on immigration and the country’s heritage as a “melting pot” of many races and cultures. On the other hand, prejudice toward disadvantaged racial groups continues to exist, and many members of such groups live in lower economic and social circumstances than the rest of the population. Because the federal government has responsibility for providing information on all groups within the country’s population, the statistical system continues to struggle with questions about the number of races for which data are to be collected, how to define and enumerate them accurately, what labels to apply to them, and how to classify persons of multiracial background. In addition, experience has shown the considerable difficulty involved in enumerating the Hispanic population, which appears to bridge both ethnicity and race concepts (see Chapter 2).

This chapter first provides a brief history of the federal government’s collection of data on race and ethnicity. It then reviews the standards for government collection of data on race and ethnicity issued by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 1977 and the revision of those standards in 1997. Next we summarize race and ethnicity data collected in the 2000 census, paying special attention to data for those who selected more than one race. We then discuss some of the issues involved in interpreting and using the new multiple-race data and briefly review research under way in the federal statistical system to resolve those issues. Finally, we make recommendations for continued collection of data on race and ethnicity with categories that are responsive to changing concepts of race among groups in the U.S. population. We further stress the need for sustained research by federal agencies to develop best practices for the measurement of race, to gain knowledge of how different groups report race and of changes in such reporting over time, and to inform users of the meaning of different measures of race and ethnicity.


Article 1, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution, written in 1787, requires a census every 10 years to determine the number of people living in each of the states. The requirement for data on race grew out of the struggle in the Constitutional Convention over the distribution of power between the North and the South. Because most of the country’s slave population lived in southern colonies, the Founding Fathers searched for a way to balance sectional power. The language adopted at the convention—and included in the Constitution—was that “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States…by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, …excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” The first census in 1790 collected the data required by the Constitution—on free white men (over and under age 16), free white women, and

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