Decoding Race and Ethnicity on the MAP

Valorie Rice, Senior Business Information Specialist

The Census Bureau has collected data on race since the very first census in 1790. Categories of race and ethnicity have changed a great deal over that time, reflecting changes in culture and society as well as the composition of the United States. Beginning in 1977, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) set the standard on how federal agencies, such as the Census Bureau, collect racial and ethnic data. The Census Bureau must adhere to the standards set by the OMB.

Currently, there are five categories for race and one for ethnicity set forth by the OMB. The OMB permits the Census Bureau to include a sixth category for “some other race.” The race categories are white, black or African American, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. Ethnicity data relates to Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin.

One pivotal change in the way racial and ethnic data was collected came about in 1997 when OMB standards allowed for the reporting of more than one race. Beginning with the 2000 Census, the Census Bureau provided individuals the option to choose more than one race category. Responses to race questions on the decennial census and the American Community Survey (which is a part of the Census) are self-reported. They reflect which race or ethnic categories an individual identifies with. Adding the possibility to choose more than one category allowed individuals who come from more than one racial background to report as such. Figure 1 shows the number of people in Arizona reporting more than one race. This translates into just 3.6% of the total population yet it makes a big difference when exploring the subject of race.

Figure 1: Arizona Population by Number of Race Categories Reported, 2018

Total 6,946,685
One Race 6,693,802
Two Races 232,167
Three Races 18,434
Four or More Races 2,282
Percent of Total Population Reporting More Than One Race 3.6%

While the ability to choose more than one race category to describe individuals provided a richer, more nuanced depiction of the population, it also made it more challenging to present the data. In order to maintain the ability to compare race and ethnic data to previous censuses, data are reported in several ways. This can lead to differences, and sometimes confusion, in the race and ethnicity population figures.

Figure 2 provides an example using American Indian and Alaska Native population in Arizona that illustrates the different ways race and ethnic data are represented. The reported categories include race alone, race alone (non-Hispanic), and race alone or in combination. The statistic people are most likely to see is “race alone." This shows individuals who report only a single race (which is closest to race depicted prior to the 2000 Census). The race alone breakdown also includes a category for “two or more races” to encompass into the total those who do report multiple races.

An additional factor is that someone of Hispanic or Latino origin can be of any race, so population by race can further be allocated by a Hispanic/non-Hispanic designation. The Census Bureau began asking the question of Hispanic origin in the 1970 Census (though they had included a category for Mexican back in the 1930 Census). White and “some other race” are the two race categories most selected by those who identify as Hispanic or Latino in Arizona. Removing those who are of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity from any race category will likely lower the total, especially in a state such as Arizona, as noted in the second line of Figure 2. 

A third way data are presented is “race alone or in combination.” This includes both individuals with a single race along with those who report more than one race. For instance, in the table below this would include all individuals who identify as only American Indian as well as those who identify as American Indian and black or American Indian and white or any other combination of races including American Indian or Alaska Native. Using the “alone or in combination” designation to sum all six race categories can add to more than the total since people who reported more than one race were tallied in each race category marked.

Figure 2: American Indian and Alaska Native Population in Arizona

One Race (Race Alone) 309,580
One Race, Not Hispanic or Latino 271,946
Race Alone or in Combination with One or More Other Races 391,620

When an individual marks American Indian and Alaska Native as a race on the Census or American Community Survey, there is space to indicate their enrolled or principle tribe. This provides even further information. The Asian and Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander categories can also be broken out into more detail. Figure 3 provides a table with some of the largest tribal groupings in Arizona. There are two columns – alone and alone or in any combination. The alone column includes those who marked only that tribal affiliation and identified that American Indian or Alaska Native was their only race. The alone or in any combination column includes both those who marked a single race and tribal grouping along with those who claim an additional tribal grouping or race.

Figure 3: Largest Tribal Groupings in Arizona

Category Alone Alone or in any Combination
Navajo 149,115 161,558
Apache 29,055 36,039
Tohono O'Odham 23,812 27,733
Pima 20,035 23,955
Yaqui 16,898 25,143
Hopi 12,988 15,966
Yuman 5,366 6,844
Mexican American Indian 3,522 7,169
American Indian or Alaska Native Tribes, not specificed 15,488  
Two or More American Indian or Alaska Native Tribes 6,098  

The MAP Dashboard typically presents race and ethnic data using race alone, not Hispanic and those representing Hispanic or Latino origin as a separate category. While this deviates from the standard reporting of race and ethnicity, it allows us to show how prominent those of Hispanic or Latino origin are for Arizona. Figure 4 provides the race and ethnicity breakdown used on the MAP Dashboard.

Figure 4: Arizona Population by Race and Ethnicity, 2018

Total Population 6,946,685
White 3,825,886
Black or African American 286,614
American Indian and Alaska Native 271,946
Asian 222,477
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander 12,523
Some Other Race 9,177
Two or More Races 154,750
Hispanic or Latino 2,163,312

To see a comparison of race and ethnicity across the history of the Census: All data in this report come from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey most recent 5-year estimates.