Talking Story: A Little History on Data in Hawaii

Almost 20 years ago, my office received a growing tide of public complaints, often phrased as “I can’t find myself,” in the list of categories that provide a “common language” to promote comparability in data on race and ethnicity provided to the Federal Government – whether directly by individuals, for example on their Census forms, or indirectly by institutions, for example by schools on their students.    Back then, the list of racial category options was short and was paired with instructions to “choose one.”  This did not sit well with many parents of children with diverse and complex racial and ethnic heritages, nor, as it turned out, with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. 

I distinctly remember one educator from Hawaii reporting abundant data on school performance for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (NHPIs), and how their results drastically differed from outcomes for Asians more generally.  The statistics presented were staggering.  

Let’s put this in today’s terms.  According to data from the 2006-2010 American Community Survey Selected Population Tables, only 17.7 percent of NHPIs 25 years of age and older have at least a bachelor’s degree.  By comparison, this statistic is 49.3 percent for Asians, exclusive of the NHPI population.  This is a substantial 31.6 percentage-point difference.   If we were not disaggregating these data, the 17.7 percent rate for the NHPI population would be included in an aggregate percentage for a broader Asian category—a percentage that would be much larger than 17.7 percent.

When NHPIs are aggregated in the broader Asian category, their real needs are masked; as a result, these communities are often overlooked and may not receive the extra support they need to succeed.

After these public hearings, my office revised the minimum Federal standards for maintaining, collecting, and presenting data on race and ethnicity for all Federal reporting purposes.  Key among the revisions was the separation of the earlier “Asian or Pacific Islander” category into two categories:  “Asian” and “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.”  Since then, we have continued to advise Federal agencies to use these more discrete categories. Nonetheless, I still hear from some advocates in Hawaii that they are dismayed they cannot access Federal data on NHPIs because the sample size is too small. With the 2010 Census revealing our Nation’s incredible diversity, the Census Bureau has recently issued a 2010 Census Brief on “The Asian Population: 2010” and a 2010 Census Brief on “The Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander Population: 2010."  Our office is issuing this working paper to provide an update on the latest methods for collecting and presenting data on race and ethnicity, with particular reference to data for the Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander populations. 

This paper describes acommon approach taken by statistical agencies to increase sample sizes by pooling data across months or years of data collection. The approach is a key component of the American Community Survey design, and it is also being used in other major household surveys. Another approach to increase sample sizes is to oversample members of those groups. Specific examples of each of these approaches are highlighted in this paper and included in the appendix. 

Katherine Wallman has served as the Chief Statistician for the United States, housed at the Office of Management and Budget, since 1992.

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