The Biden administration is proposing to allow people to check off Hispanic or Latino as their race, as well as their ethnicity.
The administration has been reviewing its more than quarter-century-old definitions of race and ethnicity and is proposing to combine two questions about race and ethnicity into one on the census and in other government data collection.
The administration also is proposing a Middle Eastern or North African category, shortened to MENA. Currently people of such origin are included in the white category, something people in the MENA category have advocated to be changed for three decades, the proposal states.
The proposals, previewed Thursday, were to be published Friday in the Federal Register. The public will have the chance to comment and those will be used to draft final proposals.
The next U.S. census will be conducted in 2030.
"The nation does periodically examine how it asks about race and ethnicity and the ways we report out those findings can be important," Mark Hugo Lopez, director of race and ethnicity research for Pew Research Center, said Thursday.
Evidence suggests the current two-part question confuses many people who see race and ethnicity as similar, according to the group of experts studying the federal government's 1997 race and ethnicity standards.
Currently, a two-part question asks whether a person is Hispanic or Latino and then asks their race, which does not include Hispanic or Latino.
A large and growing share of Latinos have reported either no race or chose some other race on the decennial census and the American Community Survey. Research has shown that combining the question reduces confusion and decreases the "some other race" response, according to the proposal.
The Census Bureau found that 4 in 10 Hispanics, 42%, marked "some other race" in the 2020 census. A third selected two or more racial groups and 20% chose white as their race, Pew reported in 2021.
Latino adults were more likely than white or Black adults to say the 2020 decennial census' two-part race and ethnicity questions did not reflect their identity well, according to a 2020 Pew Survey.
The administration's proposal is preliminary. A public comment period will follow its publication in the Federal Register Friday.
An effort to reduce undercounts
There has long been debate about how Hispanics or Latinos are captured in the census and other government data and whether the two-part question contributes to undercounts of the population.
For the 2020 census, the federal government had proposed refashioning the question on Hispanics and adding a MENA checkbox. But those proposals were shelved during the Trump administration.
The proposed changes would affect the way the federal government captures racial and ethnic information on the decennial census and also on surveys such as those done by the National Center for Health Statistics or the Department of Education, Pew's Lopez said.
He added it has implications for research organizations such as Pew Research, which uses the Census Bureau's data collection as a standard to weight public opinion surveys.
Other proposals include removing Negro and Far East as racial identities and revising the description for the American Indian or Alaska Native category to be written as: "The category 'American Indian or Alaska Native' includes all individuals who identify with any of the original peoples of North, Central, and South America."
It also is proposing the discontinuation of the use of the words majority and minority. It also is considering allowing people to check more boxes on their racial or ethnic identity and then provide more details in each category.
For example, people could check white and then check boxes for Italian, German or other countries of origin and also check American Indian or Hispanic or Latino and then check Mexican or Mexican American or Puerto Rican and others.
The public will have 75 days from Friday's publication of the proposal, labeled as OMB-2023-0001, to submit their comments to a federal website.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com