Change in Census Question-Wording Drove Seeming Decline in “White” Population

(p. A17) The most common reaction to the release of the 2020 census was summed up in the headline “Census Data show the number of white people fell.” The data show the number of whites declining by 8.6%. This observation was often coupled with a political projection: that while gerrymandering could benefit Republicans in 2022, the political future belongs to the Democratic Party, which commands large majorities among minorities.

. . .

In the 2010 census, 53% of those who said they were of Hispanic origin checked off only “white,” a 58% increase in numbers from 2000. That rise in white Hispanics helped account for the increase in the number of whites from the prior census. But in the 2020 census, a mere 20.3% of Hispanics checked off only “white,” contributing to the 8.6% decline in the total number of people identifying only as white.

That dramatic change probably stemmed not from a shift in social consciousness or demographics, but from a subtle change in the 2020 question about race. In 2010 the census asked respondents to check off whether they were white, black or African-American, American Indian or Alaska Native, various varieties of Asian or Pacific Islander, and “some other race.” They may check off as many race boxes as are applicable.

But in 2020 the census asked respondents who checked off “white” to specify their nationality: “Print, for example, German, Irish, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, etc.” No Spanish-speaking nationality was listed. That likely created the impression that Hispanic was another race, notwithstanding the previous question’s disclaimer that “Hispanic origins are not races.”

For the full commentary, see:

John B. Judis. “How the Census Misleads on Race.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, August 30, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date August 29, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

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