The problems of classifying Hispanics in the Census

A sociology professor talks about the different ways in which the Census has classified Hispanics:

Professor RUBEN RUMBAUT (University of California at Irvine): Race is one of three questions that has been asked in every census since 1790. So for 220 years, that person’s age, sex and race have been asked in a census. Age and sex have been measured in the same way for 220 years. Race has pretty much never been measured in the same way from one census to the next, suggesting this is not a biological given category but a social and legal and political construction whose meaning changes over time…From census to census, there are slight changes in wording, in instructions, and that end up making a significant difference in the actual responses that people gave.

The sociologist goes on to explain studies he has been a part of that show how immigrant groups differ in identifying themselves as white:

A colleague of mine and I since 1991 have directed the largest study of children of immigrants in the United States over time, looking at 77 different nationalities, including all of the ones from Latin America. And over time we have asked them separate questions about their ethnic identity and also a question about race. We also independently interviewed their parents.

Cuban parents, 93 percent of them, thought that they were white, but only 41 percent of their own children thought they were white; 69 percent of Nicaraguans, Salvadoran and Guatemalan parents thought they were white, but only 19 percent of their own children thought they were white.

These are quite wide differences. The Census is supposed to offer reliable and valid data over time but in this particular category, the Census has had difficulty.

Interestingly, the sociologist suggests there were experiments embedded in the 2010 Census in order to help solve these issues for the next Census:

Already in the year 2010, there were four experiments embedded in the 2010 census looking ahead at how to make changes for the year 2020. One of the things that are being considered, for example, is trying to create a single question that combines both Hispanic ethnicity and race into a single question.

I hadn’t heard anything about these experiments and I guess we’ll have to wait and see how this turns out. Whatever is decided, sociologists and others will have to find ways to put together the various measurements over the decades.

New York City to challenge 2010 Census figures

While 2010 Census figures have shown population drops in places like Chicago and St. Louis, New York City gained population in the 2000s. However, some think the Census undercounted the population growth:

Apoplectic city leaders Thursday scrambled for words to convey their shock after Census numbers seemed to lowball Gotham’s population growth since 2000.

The figures show the city grew only 2.1 percent, to 8,175,133. Mayor Michael Bloomberg contended that a 0.1% increase — a mere 1,343 people — of Queens residents and a wee 1.6 percent rise in Brooklynites “doesn’t make any sense.” The city will challenge the findings, though some observers suggested a surge in harder-to-count recent immigrants and mobile, elusive young people could in part explain a possible undercount…

Joe Salvo, NYC’s chief demographer, expressed disbelief that just 166,855 more people were added to the city, when city data showed that 170,000 new housing units had been built since 2000.

The Census Bureau will be accepting challenges starting in June. New York City last appealed its count in 1990…

The Census Bureau agrees. “The pattern in New York City is like that seen in many other large cities – higher rates of growth in suburbs than in urban cores,” the Bureau said in a statement.

Just because more housing units were built during the 2000s doesn’t not necessarily mean that the population should have gone up more. I wonder if these NYC officials have more data or evidence on which they would base their claim.

The article also notes the consequences of these figures. On one hand, federal money and Congressional seats depend on population counts. Particularly in a time of economic crisis, losing money because of an undercount would mean that the city will have to fill some financial gaps. On the other hand, there is the matter of “civic pride.” A sociologist describes this dynamic:

Unacknowledged is that modest growth injured the “pride of place” in an immodest metropolis that likes to be perceived as ever increasingly majestic and magnetic, said John Logan, a Brown University sociology professor. As Chicago winced when it fell from the nation’s second largest city to third, NY is similarly loathe to lose any ground on growth. “Some see the numbers as a sign of how good you are,” said Logan, “but that’s a mistake.”

Measuring the status of a community just by numbers is tricky, particularly when the numbers are not as strong as one would like. But American communities like to see growth – losing population (or perhaps even being stagnant) is often construed as a failure.

Even with this (undercounted?) population growth, New York City still has a sizable population lead on the next largest city: NYC has more than 4 million more people than Chicago.

2010 Census director on suburbanization of minorities

Sociologist Robert M. Groves spoke earlier this week “at an Advertising Research Foundation event.” In his comments, Groves noted one of the major demographic trends in America: more minorities are now in the suburbs.

Of course, if Groves — with a Ph.D. in sociology and a long-time Michigan professor — were to put out a “for hire” sign for TV networks, a bidding war could heat up between Univision and Telemundo. The story of the 2010 Census, which could have been written in 2005 (or 1995, for that matter), is the boom in Hispanic America…

Last year left Groves well-armed with figures about the Hispanic population, such as the prevalence of those speaking Spanish at home and English elsewhere. And he has much to say about a dispersal trend in the Hispanic community, the departure from cities. In the Atlanta area, for example, the number of Hispanic residents spreading to the collar counties is soaring.

“The suburbanization of the minority population is a phenomenon over the past decade,” Groves said.

While the American suburbs have typically been seen as places where whites attempted to escape the city and minority populations (“white flight”), the number of minorities in the suburbs has been on the rise (read about this on a national scale here and in the Chicago region here and here).

The article goes on to consider how Groves might also be in demand as businesses look to utilize this kind of demographic knowledge:

Broadly, Groves has some cred if he were to become a network ambassador to Madison Avenue. At some level, he’s overseen a massive campaign — stretching from a Super Bowl spot to targeted marketing in 28 languages — as with the Census spent $300 million to $400 million in advertising last year.

As the Bureau sought to get more Americans to return their questionnaires, it figured that for every 1% increase it produced, that would save $85 million in the costs associated with knocking on doors later.

“The message got through and it changed behavior,” Groves said.

The director can also say he can manage a budget. The Bureau returned $1.6 billion to the government last year as it completed its work.

Before becoming director of the 2010 Census, Groves was well known in sociology for his work with surveys. This article suggests that he could parlay this Census experience plus his prior research into a lucrative corporate position.

New Census figures on Hispanics in US: over 50 million

Data from the 2010 US Census continues to trickle out (see stories on the shifting US mean population center, the growth in the multiracial population, and the population changes in places like Chicago). With almost all states accounted for, demographers expect that the Hispanic population in the United States has exceeded 50 million for the first time. The Hispanic population growth was also higher than expected for the last decade:

In a surprising show of growth, Hispanics accounted for more than half of the U.S. population increase over the last decade, exceeding estimates in most states…

Racial and ethnic minorities are expected to make up an unprecedented 90 percent of the total U.S. growth since 2000, due to immigration and higher birth rates for Latinos…

“This really is a transformational decade for the nation,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings Institution who has analyzed most of the 2010 data. “The 2010 census shows vividly how these new minorities are both leading growth in the nation’s most dynamic regions and stemming decline in others.”

Currently the fastest growing group, Hispanics now comprise 1 in 6 Americans; among U.S. children, Hispanics are roughly 1 in 4.

With relatively low birth rates for whites (though these rates are not as low as other industrialized nations such as Western Europe or Japan), most of the recent population growth in the United States is non-white.

I would really like to hear more experts comment on this sort of data. What do they expect America to be within a few decades? How will these figures affect social life, politics, work, culture, and more?

Number of multiracial Americans grows in 2010 Census

In the 2000 Census, respondents were able to indicate for the first time that they are multiracial. The latest figures from the 2010 Census suggest that the multiracial population is growing at higher than expected rates:

In the first comprehensive accounting of multiracial Americans since statistics were first collected about them in 2000, reporting from the 2010 census, made public in recent days, shows that the nation’s mixed-race population is growing far more quickly than many demographers had estimated, particularly in the South and parts of the Midwest. That conclusion is based on the bureau’s analysis of 42 states; the data from the remaining eight states will be released this week.

In North Carolina, the mixed-race population doubled. In Georgia, it expanded by more than 80 percent, and by nearly as much in Kentucky and Tennessee. In Indiana, Iowa and South Dakota, the multiracial population increased by about 70 percent.

“Anything over 50 percent is impressive,” said William H. Frey, a sociologist and demographer at the Brookings Institution…

Census officials were expecting a national multiracial growth rate of about 35 percent since 2000, when seven million people — 2.4 percent of the population — chose more than one race. Officials have not yet announced a national growth rate, but it seems sure to be closer to 50 percent.

This is interesting data, particularly since these figures exceed expectations. There are several issues to note with the data. First, some of the largest growth is taking places in states like Mississippi where there is a large percentage increase because there were so few interracial people in the 2000 Census. A second question we could ask about this data is whether this is primarily an increase in multiracial relationships or is it simply a reflection of changing measurements from the US Census? One sociologist suggests the second option could be plausible:

“The reality is that there has been a long history of black and white relationships — they just weren’t public,” said Prof. Matthew Snipp, a demographer in the sociology department at Stanford University. Speaking about the mixed-race offspring of some of those relationships, he added: “People have had an entire decade to think about this since it was first a choice in 2000. Some of these figures are not so much changes as corrections. In a sense, they’re rendering a more accurate portrait of their racial heritage that in the past would have been suppressed.”

So then perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by these large increases in percentages; rather, we have better instruments by which to collect this data.

This Census data does seems to line up with changing attitudes about interracial relationships. In a recent story from Pew Research about what 90% of Americans can agree about, Pew showed how the approval of interracial relationships has grown a lot in the last several decades:

It is remarkable how this has jumped from 48% in 1987 to 83% approval in 2009. But if there is more approval for interracial relationships, then there is likely to be more relationships, marriages, and eventually children who identify as multiracial.

Interactive map of migration into and out of American counties in 2008

Forbes has an interactive map where you can click on any US county and see where people from that county moved to and where people moving into the county moved from during 2008. Very cool. It would be even better to have more years of data available and be able to see exactly what happened in a place like Cook County in the 2000s with Chicago’s overall population loss.

One complaint: it is hard to distinguish the red lines (outward population movement) from the black lines (inward population movement) when looking at the same county. For example, if you look at the line between DuPage County, IL and Los Angeles County, CA, the line is red even though 252 people moved from LA County to DuPage County and 309 moved in the opposite direction.

h/t Instapundit

The census and US House seats

There are a number of people eagerly awaiting the results of the 2010 Census. In addition to sociologists, politicians and states are awaiting an announcement regarding how population changes have affected seats in the House of Representatives:

The U.S. Census Bureau will release the new Congressional apportionment figures at a Dec. 21 news conference at the National Press Club, making official the number of Congressional districts each state will have for the next 10 years…

One trend expected to continue from the previous census is population growth rates in the South and West far outpacing those in the North and East. Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York are expected to lose seats as Florida, Texas, Arizona and Nevada are likely to gain seats.

I am very curious to see the full 2010 Census results regarding where the changes in the American population have occurred. While people have suggested that the suburban population has continued to grow (particularly in its proportion compared to city and rural dwellers), it is also interesting to note the continued trend of population growth in the South and West.

It would also be interesting to track how population changes, and the subsequent Congressional changes, really affect where the seat of power is in America. Let’s say New York loses a House seat going forward – does this really matter in the House? Does it matter in terms of public perception? Even with the population growth in the South and West, do the newer cities like Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Diego have the same perceived political power as established cities like New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago?

Long form of Canadian census now voluntary

Canadian officials have recently decided to make the long-form of their census voluntary. While the move is being made to protect the privacy of citizens, some people are not happy. The Wall Street Journal describes some of the protests:

Statisticians have protested, arguing that fewer people will respond to a voluntary survey, which will make the results less representative and reduce the government’s knowledge about its populace.

The article goes on to talk about how participation and response rates are dropping for many private surveys. If this is the case, might not the information from voluntary long-form be biased? A study done by the US Census Bureau in the early 2000s showed that changing a government survey from mandatory to voluntary dropped response rates by 20%.

Generally, social scientists operate under the assumption that research participation is voluntary. However, governments have the ability to require participation, say in areas like taxes or the census. Additionally, the statistics collected by the census have broad implications for funding, research, and knowledge about a country.

While some may not like such information being in the hands of government, do they not think their bank or credit card company already knows a lot about them?