2010 Census Recommendation Panel Rejects Ethnic Ancestry Data's Inclusion
Washington DC - With the 2010 US Census fast-approaching and the deadline to submit final survey content for the 2010 Census to Congress set for April 2007, support for the inclusion of an ancestry question in forthcoming recommendations was recently dealt a blow. An advisory commission to Congress rebuked a consortium of groups, among them the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), by rejecting a recommendation to add ethnic ancestry to the uniform decennial short form. Collection of ethnic ancestry data is said to help rectify the historic under-count of Iranian Americans, which could help increase leverage for the community, and improve the quality of federal data on topics such as discrimination.
Finalizing their recommendations to Congress, the 2010 Census Advisory Committee (CAC), made up of 10 subcommittees, did not forward any recommendations in favor of ethnic ancestry, even though census officials expressed "broad sympathy" and recognized that race and ethnicity questions generated "intense interest and debate."
Controversy centered around the testing of a "three question option" which allowed for the addition of a written-in ancestry question to traditional race and Hispanic ethnicity questions. At the test's conclusion, census officials judged that an ancestry option to the census did not record a significant impact on test populations and took up too much space on the forthcoming census short form.
Critics of the decision to exclude ancestry questions, led by advisory panelist Helen Samhan of the Arab American Institute, charged that "three question" testing formats were flawed (ancestry questions were framed as substitutes rather than complements to the race and Hispanic data in the administered test.)
Samhan, a principle member of the 2010 Ancestry Working Group coalition of American ethnic, business, grassroots, and academic organizations, considers the ancestry question valuable because the detailed information on specific population subgroups it provides has significant public sector, civic, economic, and research uses.
A proposal to include an ancestry question to the standardized decennial short form will help address race confusion, undercounting problems, interethnic marriage and immigration concerns, and will improve the reliability of civil rights data, and census participation, according to Samhan.
Of importance to Iranian Americans, the main benefit to collecting optional ethnic identification data is an established distinction between those of Middle Eastern descent, who are normally lumped together along with Europeans and North Africans as members of the White race on the Census.
"Without the ancestry question, these subgroups are subsumed into one larger category and we lose valuable information on subgroup differences," a Working Group support document states.
In the post/911 era, because of the growing need for reliable data to track instances of discrimination, racial profiling, or exclusion of ethnic populations from certain "countries of interest," census forms, which are administered to all Americans, represent the most dependable body of information available.
Such categorization will help in several respects. Iranian-Americans, whose numbers were estimated at 338,000 in 2000, have been historically undercounted because of collection and sampling methodology drawbacks. While inter-census data on ethnic ancestry collected through the American Community Survey (ACS) exists, ACS has long been criticized for its inaccuracies since it is not administered to the entire population and uses extrapolation rather than reliable figures to base its estimates.
An accurate reflection of Iranian and Iranian American population figures stands to help promote stronger representation in government, help target public sector services and business targeting, and flag areas for potential discrimination.
The Census attracts national attention; is sent to every home; has partnership resources; language assistance; and a coordinated, advertising campaign which in turn will likely yield more accurate results from a greater swathe of Americans.
While the deadline for the Census Bureau to submit final survey content for the 2010 Census to Congress for approval will elapse in a few months, the Ancestry Working Group is considering alternative strategies to draw Congress' attention before approval of the census short form is finalized.
Other Iranian American organizations participating in the Working Group's activities include the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC) and the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA), among others. For more information on the 2010 Census Ancestry Working Group, visit the Arab American Forum website at: