New Federal Criteria Could Revamp Borrower Demographics

So, you thought proposed changes to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act was the only regulation that could shake up mortgage demographics?

The Office of Management and Budget, in a Sept. 30 Notice published in the Federal Register (, announced a review of particular components appearing on Census forms. If approved, the changes-the first proposed since 1997-could appear on the 2020 Census form.

Specifically, the proposed changes would create separate questions measuring race and ethnicity and question phrasing, including for Hispanic identity; classification of a Middle Eastern and North African group and reporting category; description of the intended use of minimum reporting categories; and terminology used for race and ethnicity classifications.

“If approved by the Office of Management and Budget, the revisions would be made on the 2020 census questionnaire and other federal government surveys or forms,” wrote D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer/editor focusing on immigration and demographics with the Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C., and a former Washington Post reporter ( “Federal statistics about race and Hispanic identity are used to enforce civil rights laws, assist in political redistricting and provide data for research that compares the status of different groups.”

Cohn wrote changes would be intended to improve the accuracy and reliability of race and ethnicity data by making it easier for people to answer questions about their identity, according to federal officials. “Many people, especially Hispanics, Arabs and people of multiple origins, are unsure about how to categorize themselves on census questionnaires and other federal forms,” she said.

The proposed changes mark the first major revision on racial identity since Americans were offered an option to check more than one race box in identifying themselves on federal forms, which occurred in 1997 and implemented in the 2000 census. OMB said the proposed changes aim to reduce the number of people who check the “some other race” box so that more accurate demographic data can be mined.

The 1997 changes required separate measures of race and ethnicity, with the “Hispanic or Latino” ethnicity presented first. Respondents were offered the option of selecting one or more racial designations, with the use of the instructions “Mark one or more” and “Select one or more.” “African-American” was added to the category of “Black.” “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander” was created as a separate category from “Asian or Pacific Islander.” However, agreement could not be reached regarding the composition of an “Arab/Middle Eastern” category, and no classification or category was therefore defined.

“Since the 1997 revision, the U.S. population has continued to become more racially and ethnically diverse,” OMB said. “Additionally, much has been learned about the implementation of these standards since they were issued approximately two decades ago.”

Civil rights and activist groups have called for more detailed census demographic information, saying it would enable the government to more accurately track incidents of racial discrimination.

The proposed changes are subject to a 30-day comment period; OMB could go ahead with final proposed changes in 2017 for the 2020 census, which would require congressional approval.