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Wisconsin Is Getting More Diverse, Census Bureau Statisticians Say Inclusive Data Practices Helped

United States Census Bureau
United States Census Bureau
Percent Change in County Population: 2010-2020

Racial in the U.S. is increasing, including here in Milwaukee and across the state of Wisconsin. Recent 2020 census data showed that Hispanic and Asian populations increased across the nation, and the population of those that identified as "white only" decreased.

This is a trend that statisticians at the Census Bureau have long predicted. They also attribute these trends to the inclusive changes in how population data is collected.

During the 2010 census, the Census Bureau launched theAlternative Questions Experimentto give insight into how people wanted to express their identities.

Marc Perry is a senior demographer, and Roberto Ramirez is a senior manager in the population division at the Census Bureau.

Ramirez says, "Leading to the 2010 census; we had decided to say, you know, we need to really look into perhaps changing the format of the question, improving the accuracy of the measurement of race."

This is something the Census Bureau commonly does. "You may not be aware that we never had the same race question on a census," he notes. For example, one of the major changes from the 2010 census to the 2020 census includes adding write-in lines for the options of Black and white. According to Ramirez, the public responded well.

While "white only" has decreased, "white" and variations of other ethnicities have increased. Moreover, those write-in lines provided a chance for people to identify themselves ethnically. "Someone, for example, who is white, could go to the white right in line and say, 'I'm Irish, I'm German. And also, by the way, right in that I'm Hispanic, or Jamaican' or etc.," Ramirez explains.

The pandemic had an impact on how the Census Bureau collected its data and many have voiced concerns about an undercount of marginalized populations. In addition, census operations needed to change their timeline, adjust to being remote, and having millions of people temporarily moving around the county raised worry. Still, Perry quips it was a quality census.

"The result was actually in the end by every standard and measure by which we sort of looked at the census results, they aligned with our expectations going into the census," he says.

Ramirez notes that the demographic data collected by the Census Bureau enforced the civil and voting rights laws of the 60s-70s. He says that while the Census Bureau is not involved with policymaking, it is the "building block of it."

"For all the policymakers and state and local government officials within Wisconsin, they need to sort of best serve their constituents. They need to know, 'Is my population growing or declining? Why is it growing? Why is it declining? Who were the people moving in? Who are the people who are no longer here?' All of that," notes Perry.

The census gives a picture of the people at the local level, and that information is used in many ways, notes Ramirez.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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