Why is the Census Important?
Data from each decennial census affects how federal and state funding (more than $400 billion a year!) is spent in your neighborhood. This money is spent on public health, transportation, education, community development and much more. Additionally, the census is mandated by the Constitution to be used in apportioning seats in the US House of Representatives. It is also used to redistrict state legislatures and school district assignment areas. Making sure that you spend just ten minutes filling out the census form ensures that your community will get its fair share of federal and state funding. And remember, the US Census Bureau protects all the information that you share in the census questionnaire; your name, address, etc., will never be shared or used against you by any government agency or court. Please make sure to read What Arab Americans and Chaldeans Need
What is the ACS?
The American Community Survey (ACS) is a nationwide survey designed to provide communities with a fresh look at how they are changing through critical economic, social, demographic and housing information. Every year the ACS provides communities with the same kind of detailed information previously available only from the long form of the U.S. Census. It is sent to a small percentage of the population on a rotating basis throughout the decade. No household will receive the survey more often than once every five years.
In the past, all households received a short-form Census questionnaire, while one household in six received a long form that contained additional questions, including a question on ancestry. The 2010 Census changed to a short-form only census and counts all residents living in the United States, asking only 10 basic questions (name, sex, age, date of birth, race, Hispanic origin, family relationship and housing tenure). The ACS, which collects more socioeconomic and demographic information than the short-form Census questionnaire, continues to ask a question on ancestry or ethnic origin.
"Race" and "Ancestry" in the Census
Federal data on Arab Americans are derived from a question on ancestry. Between 1980 and 2000, ancestry data was collected on the long form of the decennial census. Since 2005 all long form demographic questions, including ancestry, have been asked on the American Community Survey.
The ancestry question is based on self-identification of up to two ethnic origins. Ancestry refers to a person’s ethnic origin or descent, “roots,” heritage, or place of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. Some ethnic identities, such as “Egyptian” or “Polish” can be traced to geographic areas outside the United States, while other ethnicities such as “Pennsylvania Dutch” or “Cajun” evolved in the United States.
According to the Office of Management and Budget’s federal guidelines on race and ethnic measurement, persons from the Middle East and North Africa are considered White/Caucasian by race. When filling out the Census, some Arab Americans choose to select “Some Other Race” and write in their ethnicity or countries of origin. Although these responses are tabulated by the Census Bureau, by law they must be reassigned to an existing race category for purposes of published reports, redistricting, etc.
Americans with Middle Eastern and North African ancestry are a diverse population with ties to over twenty countries and various backgrounds. However, dramatic undercounts of our community have left us with little information on the growing number of Americans of MENA origin. We are now poised to see a MENA category on the 2020 Census.
Creating a separate aggregate response category for Middle Eastern or North African origin will better equip the U.S. to understand a growing constituency, allocate federal aid that addresses community-based needs and enforce civil rights laws. For more information on the MENA Category and AAI's advocacy efforts, click here.