Statistical Agencies:

Collection and Reporting of Race and Ethnicity Data

T-GGD-97-92: Published: Apr 23, 1997. Publicly Released: Apr 23, 1997.

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GAO discussed the reporting of race and ethnicity data, focusing on: (1) its prior work on the collection and reporting of race and ethnicity data by the Bureau of the Census for the decennial census, as well as by other federal agencies; and (2) state reporting of race and ethnicity data to federal agencies for health and educational purposes.

GAO noted that: (1) over the years, its work has shown that the collection of these types of data is technically complex and publicly controversial; (2) it is technically complex because race and ethnicity are not objectively definable characteristics, making measurement difficult; (3) also, in many instances, a person self-identifies his or her own race and ethnicity; (4) in other instances another party may categorize the person's race and ethnic designation by observation, which can produce inconsistent results; (5) in addition, the manner in which different organizations may ask for racial or ethnic information, as well as how this information is compiled or aggregated, can lead to inconsistent results; (6) measurement of race and ethnicity is also controversial because some individuals have strong feelings about how they are classified and are uncomfortable, when presented with a list of classifications, if a particular "category" is not available for them to select; (7) for example, some people who are multiracial want to be able to reflect this heritage by designating themselves as such; however, they may not be provided this choice; (8) alternatively, some people may oppose the use of a multiracial category because it could result in a reduction in the number of individuals classified in their racial category, and they view this as potentially reducing any benefits this particular group may receive; and (9) some state and federal program or administrative officials raise concerns about a multiracial category because it may: (a) add costs from the need to change forms and computer software; (b) not provide any analytical benefits; or (c) result in reporting inconsistencies and impede analyses of trends.

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