Apr 16, 2024 - News

U.S. Census revamped to better count Middle Eastern groups

A cat perches over as someone fills out their 2010 Census form.

A cat perches over as someone fills out their 2010 Census form. Photo: MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

Arab American community leaders are celebrating a new federal rule to more accurately count people with Middle Eastern and North African heritage.

The big picture: The U.S. Census and other federal forms will now offer a choice of "Middle Eastern or North African" (MENA) when asking about race and ethnicity.

  • Previously, any MENA respondents were classified under the white racial category.

Why it matters: Critics have long said the government's approach to asking about people's race or ethnicity is confusing or misrepresentative — and the stakes are huge when it comes to the distribution of billions in federal funds for health, education and other programs, Axios' Astrid Galván reports.

Zoom in: Members of Metro Detroit's Arab American communities have faced obstacles when applying for federal aid because of how the population is counted, Rima Meroueh, director of the National Network for Arab American Communities, tells Axios Detroit.

  • "There is specific funding to minority and marginalized communities to address systemic barriers — we're not able to apply for those because we're not considered a minority because we're [counted] under the white population," Meroueh says.

State of play: The government will now use a single, combined race and ethnicity question, per the new rule from the Office of Management and Budget.

  • Along with adding a category for people of MENA heritage, it's also intended to provide a more accurate look at the U.S. Hispanic population.
  • Hispanics have long said the two-question setup — one asking about race and the other about ethnicity — didn't capture the diversity among Hispanics, who are of many races.

What's next: The next census will be in 2030.

Go deeper: U.S. Census revamped to better count Middle Eastern and Latino groups

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