A large share of Latinos don't identify with current race categories

A large share of the U.S. Latino population doesn't identify with any of the current racial categories in the census, according to new 2020 Census Bureau data that shows "major shifts" in how Americans who identify as Hispanic report their race.

While almost 60% of the 54.6 million Americans who identified as Hispanic reported belonging to one racial group, such as white or Black, over a third (35.5%) of Latinos chose “Some Other Race" alone. This category is currently not recognized as a race by the federal government.

The Census Bureau said a combined 43.6% of Americans who self-identify as Hispanics either reported being of “Some Other Race” (35.5%) or did not respond to the race question in the 2020 count (8.1%).

The findings come as the Biden administration is considering allowing Americans to check off "Hispanic or Latino" as their race as well as their ethnicity as part of new proposed classifications for the next census.

Currently, the census considers race and ethnicity as two distinct categories, and Americans are asked about them in census forms in two different questions.

'Average Hispanic doesn't necessarily see the difference'

The proposal to include Latino/Hispanic as a "race" has been explored for more than a decade, because Latinos “have been telling the Census Bureau that the [current] question didn’t really work for a lot of people," Jens Manuel Krogstad, a senior writer and editor at the Pew Research Center focused on Hispanic demographic trends, told NBC News.

“A central issue is that the average Hispanic doesn’t necessarily see the difference between race and ethnicity," he said.

At the same time, a growing number of Latinos who are multiracial or have mixed backgrounds do “view their Hispanic identity as part of their racial identity,” Krogstad said.

In the 2020 census, 19.4 million Latinos identified as belonging to “Some Other Race" alone, followed by 9.6 million who identified as white alone, 1.4 million who identified as American Indian and Alaska Native alone and 960,080 who identified as Black or African American alone. An additional 4.45 million Latinos did not answer the race question in the 2020 census.

The numbers support previous Census Bureau research showing that “a large proportion of the Hispanic population does not identify with any of the current Office of Management and Budget (OMB) race categories,” the bureau said.

Robert Santos, the first Latino to lead the Census Bureau, has said he is part of that large share of Latinos who doesn't use current racial categories. Santos has been checking “Some Other Race” and writing in "mestizo" on his census forms, to better describe his Mexican American heritage, for the past 40 years.

As he sets up the bureau for the next decennial census in 2030, Santos has said improving the count of nonwhite populations, many of which have been historically undercounted, is among his priorities.

More than 18.6 million self-identifying Hispanics reported belonging to two or more races, according to the recent census data.

The data also show that an overwhelming majority of these Latinos, nearly 17.5 million, marked “Some Other Race" alone as one of their multiple racial categories.

"That really highlights the diversity of Hispanic identity and how Hispanic identity can contain many things for people," Krogstad, who has a Mexican mother and a white father of Norwegian descent, said.

This is particularly true at a time when millions of Americans are expanding the definition of what it means to be of Latino or Hispanic descent amid dramatic population growth and rising intermarriage rates that are producing an increasingly multicultural population, Krogstad added.

The Office of Management and Budget, which provides guidelines on how government agencies should collect information on race to manage federal programs, has been accepting public comments on proposals around census classifications and is expected to make a decision next year.

While 54.6 million Americans self-identified as Hispanic in the 2020 census, the bureau estimates that a total of 62.1 million Latinos live in the country, according to the 2020 census data.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com