Race, Ethnicity & Public Policy Research Paper Starter

Race, Ethnicity & Public Policy

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This article will focus on the relationship between race, ethnicity, and public policy and will provide an overview of the ways in which the federal government conceptualizes and measures race and ethnicity. This discussion of race-based statistics will serve as a foundation for the subsequent discussion of public policies targeted at racial and ethnic groups. Examples of race-based public policies such as affirmative action will be introduced. Discussions of race-based statistics and race-based public policies will be situated within the context of the modern debates over race-based public policy responses to social problems.

Keywords Affirmative Action; Ethnicity; Public Policy; Race; Race-Based Statistics

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Overview

The US government creates public policy for its citizens in order to meet a perceived social need or solve a perceived social problem. Public policy, which refers to the basic policy or set of policies that serve as the foundation for public laws, is often characterized as a social goal that enables objective or social solution. Public policy is often requested explicitly and implicitly by society and enacted by government and unites and mediates the relationship between society and government. Public policy, which encompasses and regulates nearly all areas of human and social behavior, is created within a specific historical context, socio-cultural context, and political system.

The categories of race and ethnicity have influenced American public policy decisions since the founding of the modern federal government. The federal government has collected and based policy upon race-based statistics since the first population census in 1790. In the first census (conducted in 1790), African-American slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person and American Indians were not counted. During the eighteenth-century, race was believed to influence character, moral, intellect, and ultimately rights and was viewed as relevant and important for analysis of social, political, and economic variables. Since 1900, twenty-six different racial terms have been used by the US Census Bureau to identify populations.

Race and ethnicity influenced voting, housing, education, and civil rights policy in the United States throughout the twentieth century. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights movement raised public consciousness about discrimination encountered by minority groups in public and private institutions. The Affirmative Action program and public policies were created in the 1960s to remedy the economic and social discrimination faced by racial and ethnic minorities in America. These policies have undergone scrutiny, debate, and change since their inception five decades ago. Society's many stakeholders debate the proper and desirable relationship between race, ethnicity, and public policy.

In the twenty-first century, race remains significant in relation to government census taking and policy making (Chiswick, 1984). Race-based public policies (such as the Civil Rights Act and Affirmative Action) were developed during the twentieth-century to address and remediate the problem of racial discrimination. The federal government developed race-based Affirmative Action policies and programs to create equal opportunity for people of all races and ethnicities. Affirmative Action, as a contested strategy and policy within American society, encompasses and raises the moral, political, and social issues of values, diversity, equality, and discrimination. The modern federal government supports and promotes Affirmative Action policies and programs that create compensatory education, training, and job counseling, and intensive recruitment for racial populations that have historically experienced discrimination and repression.

The focus of this essay will be on the evolving relationship between race, ethnicity, and public policy. The following section will provide an overview of the way in which the federal government conceptualizes and measures race and ethnicity. This discussion of race-based statistics will serve as a foundation for the subsequent discussion of Affirmative Action public policies. Discussions of race-based statistics and race-based public policies will be situated within the context of the modern controversies over race-based public policy responses to social problems in America.

Race-Based Statistics

The US government collects and uses statistics about society to direct and shape public policy. Examples of important and influential statistics include:

  • Social indicator statistics: social statistics gathered to assess the impact of social policy as well as continued or emerging social needs.
  • Poverty threshold statistics: poverty statistics measured annually by the US Census Bureau to determine eligibility criteria for social welfare programs and public assistance.
  • Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity: standards intended to provide consistent and comparable data on race and ethnicity throughout the federal government for an array of statistical and administrative programs.

The use of race-based statistics and of racial and ethnic classifications by the federal government raises numerous ethical and policy issues. The federal government's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is responsible for establishing the standards and categories used to measure and assess race and ethnicity in America. The OMB defines the category of race as a self-identified data item in which residents choose the race or races with which they most closely identify. “Ethnicity” refers to the identification with population groups characterized by common ancestry, language, and custom. In 1977, the OMB developed Statistical Policy Directive No. 15, entitled Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting. It was revised in 1997. The federal race and ethnicity data standards and categories were developed initially in 1977 for multiple reasons:

  • The data standards are intended to serve as a common language to promote uniformity and comparability for data on race and ethnicity.
  • The data standards are intended to provide consistent data on race and ethnicity throughout the federal government.
  • The data standards are intended to aid the government in efforts to enforce civil rights laws in areas such as equal access in housing, education, and employment for populations that historically had experienced discrimination and differential treatment because of their race or ethnicity.
  • The data standards are intended for use in the decennial census, household surveys, administrative forms such as school registration and mortgage lending applications, and in medical research.

The Office of Management and Budget's Statistical Policy Directive No. 15 includes five race and two ethnicity categories. The categories, which are used for federal statistics, program administration, and civil rights enforcement, include the following:

Race

  • American Indian or Alaska Native refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.
  • Asian refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • Black or African American refers to a person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa. Terms such as "Haitian" or "Negro" can be used in addition to "Black or African American."
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
  • White refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.

Ethnicity

  • Hispanic or Latino refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race. The term, "Spanish origin," can be used in addition to "Hispanic or Latino."
  • Not Hispanic or Latino refers to a person with no Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin.

The standards, as described above, are the product of the 1997 revisions that made the following changes. First, the Asian or Pacific Islander category was separated into two the categories of "Asian" and "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander." Second, the term “Hispanic” was changed to "Hispanic or Latino." The 1997 revisions were undertaken in an effort to represent the demographic diversity created by the growth in immigration and in interracial...

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