Hearing on Multiracial Identification

Statement of Isabelle Katz Pinzler
Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division
Department of Justice

Before the Subcommittee on Government Management, Information and Technology
of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight

Hearing on Multiracial Identification
25 July 1997


Mr. Chairman, Congresswoman Maloney, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on Federal measures of race and ethnicity, and specifically on the recommendations of the Interagency Committee for the Review of Racial and Ethnic Standards for changes to OMB Statistical Policy Directive No. 15.

Directive 15 was promulgated in 1977 and it has served the country well in standardizing the collection of racial and ethnic data by various agencies of the Federal government, most importantly from our perspective, the Bureau of the Census. Moreover, Directive 15's categories have been widely adopted by state and local government agencies and private organizations that collect and report demographic data. Thus, for many years there have existed uniform and effective standards for collecting, reporting and presenting demographic data on the racial and ethnic characteristics of the United States' population.

Times and needs change, however, it has become necessary to evaluate how well a standard that is more than 20 years old continues to serve the purposes for which it was designed. Our review of the research suggests that changes to Directive 15 are necessary to better capture the demographic characteristics of the nation. We commend the Interagency Committee for undertaking this most difficult and controversial task. Indeed, the Department of Justice was pleased to be part of the Interagency Committee and we support its recommendations. The Civil Rights Division believes that the country will be best served by the changes recommended by the Interagency Committee because, if adopted, they will address the concerns of those members of the public who find that the existing standard does not allow them accurately to report their identities, while allowing the Federal government to continue to collect accurate and reliable data, and thus enhancing the effectiveness of the enforcement of our civil rights laws.

It will still be necessary to evaluate these newly collected data so that their use is consistent with historical precedent.. This will ensure that information is presented in a fashion that is reliable and useful to agencies and organizations such as the Department of Justice that have law enforcement responsibilities. In addition, further work will be needed to ensure that these data will be used so as not to have an adverse impact on certain groups, such as Alaskan Natives, Asian Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans, as indicated in the research conducted for the Interagency Committee.

To understand the reasons why we support the Committee's recommendations, it is useful to explain how the Department of Justice relies on racial and ethnic data to carry out its law enforcement mission. The Civil Rights Division of the Department enforces civil rights laws enacted by Congress to combat historic and continuing discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities, among others. The evidence of discrimination that served as the basis for enacting these laws has been compelling, as reflected in the legislative history, and led to the overwhelming support these laws garnered when enacted.

The Division relies extensively on demographic data in the course of our efforts to identify and remedy violations of the civil rights laws for which we have enforcement responsibility, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Our law enforcement efforts depend heavily on demographic data that are accepted by the courts as reliable and are presented in a usable format. They also depend on data that allow individuals to identify themselves as members of groups that are subjected to discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity. Among other sources, the Division uses data that are collected, analyzed and published by the Census Bureau, data in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports filed by employers, data filed by lenders under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, and data collected from schools by the Department of Education. The recommendations of the Interagency Committee would apply to each of these sources of Federal data.

Let me describe briefly some of the ways the Division relies upon measures of race and ethnicity from census and other demographic data in its law enforcement work.

FAIR HOUSING AND FAIR LENDING. It is important to have accurate race and ethnic data for purposes of enforcing the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 12 U.S.C. 1691, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race and national origin. The data assist in a variety of ways in determining whether a housing or lending practice is unlawful. For example, having accurate information about the racial composition of neighborhoods is critical in determining whether a real estate company is steering minority homeseekers away from white neighborhoods. Racial and ethnic census data are particularly useful in our efforts to ensure lenders do not discriminate in making home mortgage and other types of loans. Such data will help in determining, for example, whether a lender designating its geographic service areas has excluded areas where large concentrations of minorities live.

Race and ethnic census data also assist in analyzing marketing practices. For example, we consider whether a lender used methods (direct-mail solicitation in select areas, for example) that avoid minority borrowers or, on the other hand, targeted minority borrowers for predatory lending practices, such as very high-priced mortgages. Further, our cases frequently require complex statistical analyses, usually designed to determine the extent to which racial or ethnic differences in mortgage prices or denial rates could have occurred by chance. Here, we control for various combinations of racial, ethnic, and economic data to assess their possible impact on the price or denial rate differences. Accurate identification of race and ethnicity of borrowers is critical to such analyses.

EDUCATION. Accurate race data play an essential role in our efforts to ensure equal educational opportunities under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000c-6 and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974, 20 U.S.C. 1703. These data help the Division target investigations, detect violations, and monitor and enforce desegregation plans.

EMPLOYMENT. The Division enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e, against public (non-Federal) emloyers, and Executive Order 11246 against Federal contractors. These laws prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of race, sex, religion, and national origin. Our enforcement efforts rely heavily upon reliable data regarding the composition of the labor force according to race, national origin, sex, education, age, occupation, and residence.

Race and ethnic data are essential to establish a prima facie case that an employer engaged in an employment practice that either intentionally disadvantaged individuals, or had an illegal discriminatory impact, on the basis of race or national origin. In general, a statistical prima facie case depends on a comparison of, for example, the racial or ethnic compostion of the relevant labor pool to the racial or ethnic composition of those hired for a particular position. See Hazelwood School Dist. V. United States, 433 U.S. 299, 307-308 (1977); Wards Cove Packing Co. v. Atonio, 490 U.S. 642, 650-51 (1989). The absence of accurate aggregated race and ethnic data that can be used to determine the impact of an employment practice would be detrimental to the Department's ability to pursue cases of illegal employment discrimination.

VOTING RIGHTS. The Department relies on census data to determine the racial and ethnic composition of voting jurisdictions, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These data are important to enforcement of Section 5 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973c, which requires covered jurisdictions to obtain preclearance of proposed changes in election practices to ensure that they do not have the purpose or effect of disadvantaging voters on the basis of race or ethnicity. Under Section 5, census data provide decisive information in cases when it is alleged that proposed election rules will have a differential impact on minority citizens.

Similarly, enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973, requires accurate census data regarding race and ethnicity, especially when courts must determine whether state, county and local redistricting plans have a discriminatory result. These data are also crucial to demostrating racial bloc voting patterns which the Supreme Court found to be of signal importance in proving a violation of Section 2. See Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30 (1986).

Finally, the Division uses census data to enforce Section 203 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973aa-1a, which requires language assistance to voters in jurisdictions in which over 5% or a total of 10,000 of the residents are members of a language minority group and are limited-English proficient. Although the proposed changes to Directive 15 would not directly affect the collection of language usage data, racial and ethnic data are used in conjunction with that data in enforcing the language provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

Mr. Chairman, perhaps the most prominent issue with regard to the Interagency Committee's recommendations has been whether the existing standards are adequate to reflect the nation's increasingly diverse population. We recognize the importance of this question. Throughout the Interagency process the Division has been concerned that the inclusion of additional categories such as "multiracial," "other," or an open-ended response would fragment racial and ethnic group data and make enforcement more difficult because the additional categories could confuse respondents, lead to less reliable data, and make it difficult to prove that members of a particular racial or ethnic group are suffering discrimination.

The work done by the Office of Management and Budget, the National Academy of Sciences, the Bureau of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and cited in the report of the Interagency Committee, considered theses concerns. Based upon this work, the Interagency Committee concluded that the best means of measuring the growing multiracial population while continuing to conduct an accurate census and to collect reliable demographic data would be to have respondents choose, as appropriate, "one or more" races, rather than a single "multiracial" category.

Allowing respondents to choose the appropriate racial categories was found by these tests and studies to produce a more accurate and useful measure of racial characteristics than the adoption of a new "multiracial" category. In addition, these studies found that collecting data in this manner would not, in most cases, significantly affect the reporting of racial or ethnic information. Given these research findings, the concerns of the Division were addressed as to the vehicle forthe collection of multiracial data, but more work needs to be done. The statistical Federal agencies who are members of the Interagency Committee will continue to look at how this newly collected and complex data will relate to the historical use of racial and ethnic categories, and we look forward to working with these agencies to address these issues.

Mr. Chairman, the issues raised by Federal measures of race and ethnicity are difficult and often emotional ones, and have been well addressed by the Interagency Committee as we move towards the 21st century. But the bottom line for the law enforcement work of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice is that we need complete, accurate, and reliable data in order to combat effectively the types of discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities that are prohibited by the vital civil rights laws enacted by the Congress. We look forward to working on the questions of how to use and interpret the data collected to ensure effective civil rights enforcement.

Thank you for providing this opportunity for the Department of Justice to present its views. I look forward to answering any questions members of the Subcommittee may have.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.