How Recent Changes to U.S. Census Race and Ethnicity Data Will Impact Southern California Planning Work


On March 28, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) published revisions to Statistical Policy Directive No. 15—the policy directive that establishes rules for maintaining, collecting and presenting race and ethnicity data for federal agencies, including the U.S. Census Bureau—for the first time since 1997.  

The revised Statistical Policy Directive requires federal, state and local agencies (including the U.S. Census Bureau) to: 

  • Collect data using a single combined race and ethnicity question and allow multiple responses. 
  • Add Middle Eastern or North African as a minimum reporting category, separate and distinct from the White category;  
  • Require the collection of more detail beyond the minimum race and ethnicity reporting categories, unless an agency requests and receives an exemption from OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. 

The revised Statistical Policy Directive also revises the Minimum Reporting Categories used for defining and reporting race and ethnicity data, as detailed in the following table. 

Before Revision After Revision (Current)
Race Race and Ethnicity
American Indian or Alaska Native American Indian or Alaska Native
Asian Asian
Black or African American Black or African American
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander Hispanic or Latino
White (note: included Middle Eastern or North African) Middle Eastern or North African
Ethnicity Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
Hispanic or Latino White
Not Hispanic or Latino  

In addition, federal, state and local agencies are encouraged to use more detailed race and ethnicity categories and allow for write-in responses when possible, so long as they can be aggregated to the minimum categories.  

To develop the revisions, the OMB created a Federal Interagency Technical Working Group on Race and Ethnicity Standards to review years of U.S. Census Bureau research and build on the work of a previous interagency working group. The existing evidence included several large-scale, rigorous studies conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, especially the 2015 National Content Test. According to the revised Statistical Policy Directive, the goal of this process was to produce accurate and useful race and ethnicity data across the federal government.  

Once implemented by federal agencies, these changes will directly impact any of SCAG’s work that uses demographic data from the U.S. Census Bureau. SCAG uses race and ethnicity statistics to conduct several analyses, including in the development of the Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS), the Federal Transportation Improvement Program, demographic projections, the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, and the administration of funds through several programs that impact housing supply, climate resilience and mobility.  As an example, SCAG’s Priority Equity Communities (PECs), which inform assessments of RTP/SCS performance and guide RTP/SCS implementation, use race and ethnicity as one criterion. Local agencies will also see changes from the disaggregated racial and ethnic data from federal data sources in their analyses; however, they might face issues with decreased sample sizes and need to aggregate smaller groups. 

SCAG will continue monitoring how the revisions are implemented, particularly by the U.S. Census Bureau. Beyond these data improvements, SCAG looks forward to continuing to build relationships with community partners in working toward a healthy, prosperous, accessible and connected region for a more resilient and equitable future.  Additional SCAG demographic data and updates can be found on the SCAG website

For more information, read the updated Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 on the Federal Register or visit the OMB website dedicated to the revisions