Column: Biden’s plan to alter census will make it more inclusive

Lindsey Ulrey

The Biden administration wants to change the 2030 census to “improve their collection efforts, including enhancing demographic information around race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability status,” said Jamal Brown, the national press secretary for the Biden-Harris campaign, in a statement for NPR before the election.

This is an idea that gained popularity during the Obama administration but was stalled when Trump took office. Biden’s transition team has not announced any specific policy concerning enhanced demographic information in the 2030 census, but they have previewed it being on the Biden administration’s agenda.

This change in the next census is an exciting prospect because it would allow policymakers and researchers greater insight into the unmet needs of previously “invisible” groups such as the LGBTQ+ community and people with roots in the Middle East or North Africa.

One proposal that Vice President-elect Kamala Harris supported as a senator is for the next census to require the Census Bureau to collect voluntary data about people’s sexual orientation and gender identity. This is a positive step because currently, there is no consistent national-level data about how many LGBTQ+ people live in the U.S. Another proposal would add a new category on census forms for people of Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) descent.

According to the current U.S. standards, individuals with “origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa” are considered as white in data about race and ethnicity released by the Census Bureau and other federal agencies. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan whose parents are Palestinian immigrants to the U.S. and Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, a Trump appointee who joined the bureau in 2019 had a cursory discussion about this issue earlier this year.

“Dr. Dillingham, do I look white to you?” Tlaib asked early this year during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on the census. “Congresswoman, I think that if you tell me what you identify with, I think I would respect that,” Dr. Dillingham replied.

Tlaib then went on to accurately explain how the absence of another option of race on the census would hurt those with roots in the Middle East and North Africa by not providing accurate information that helps decide the fair distribution of federal funding, health research and the determination of the kind of language assistance communities need.

Tlaib then concluded with a straightforward statement. “Director, we need to get it right because I’m not white.” I am confident that the Biden administration will make changes to the next census that will push for fair representation of all.

 

Lindsey Ulrey is a freshman political science major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]