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Arab American Institute Welcomes Inclusion of Arab American and MENA Data in Census Bureau’s Detailed DHC-A Release

posted on: Sep 21, 2023

The Census Bureau released the Detailed Demographic and Housing Characteristics File A (Detailed DHC-A) today which, for the first time ever, includes disaggregated data on Arab Americans and other communities from the Middle East or North Africa (MENA). Because of changes made by the Census Bureau for the 2020 Census, the collection and tabulation of data about racial and ethnic groups in the United States, including Arab Americans, is now available. Previously, detailed data on these communities were only available from the ancestry question on the American Community Survey (ACS).

The Census Bureau’s classification of MENA communities and Arab Americans follows the standards set by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in 1997. Though the outdated 1997 Race and Ethnicity Standards are currently under review, they are the basis by which the Census Bureau is reporting the 2020 census data released today in the DDHC files. With that caveat, the decennial census data shows 3.5 million individuals from the MENA region, with 2.6 million Arab Americans or possibly 2.8 million, if one includes the “Other Middle Eastern and North African” data. “Lebanese” (685,672), “Egyptian” (396,854), and “Arab” (170,437) had the three highest response rates from within the Arab American community. This data was captured through write-in responses on the decennial census form, as no MENA checkbox encompassing these communities currently exists.

Utilizing census data, as well as immigration statistics and natural population growth, AAI estimates the number of Arab Americans to be at least 3.7 million.

With the objective of securing accurate data about Arab Americans, AAI has been advocating for a MENA ethnic category on the decennial census for decades and strongly supported the Interagency Technical Working Group’s initial recommendations to add MENA as a new minimum reporting category.    

Maya Berry, Executive Director of the Arab American Institute, made the following statement:

“This release is incredibly important for the Arab American community. For the first time ever, we are able to see data from the decennial Census on our community and while we know the numbers do not yet reflect an accurate count, the Census Bureau has taken a monumental step in moving us in the right direction.

It is also significant to note that despite low visibility on the census form because of the lack of a MENA category, people had to actively write in their responses to arrive at these numbers, a key ask of our 2020 get-out-the-count campaign, Yalla Count Me In.

The DDHC data confirms what we have known—people from the MENA region, including Arab Americans, have been rendered invisible in census data resulting in a harmful undercount of these communities and a distinct MENA ethnic category is necessary to address that historical undercount. Our job now is to keep pursuing accurate data by making sure we secure a MENA ethnic category, one that is inclusive of all, including transnational communities, and one that reflects the diverse racial makeup of people from the MENA region.”

To learn more about the importance of the DDHC-A data, including how it can inform policymaking and advance data equity, join AAI on Tuesday, September 26 at 4 p.m. for a webinar. Register Here.

Compiled by Arab America

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