Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans .

IAPAC Joins the Working Group on Ancestry



Wednesday, January 24, 2007

IAPAC Joins the Working Group on Ancestry

Washington, D.C. - In the hope of securing an accurate count of the number of Iranian Americans residing in the United States, the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC) has become a member of the Ancestry Working Group (AWG). Spearheaded by the Arab American Institute (AAI), the AWG comprises a coalition of ethnic organizations and researchers who have come together to promote the inclusion of an ancestry question on the “short form” in the 2010 census. The AWG believes that collecting data on the ancestry of the full U.S. population is essential to understanding the nation’s demographics.

 The next U.S. Census will be taken in 2010. Traditionally, the U.S. Census Bureau sends out a “short form” to all households in the U.S. and a more detailed “long form” questionnaire to a sample of the nation’s housing units. The 2010 Census will feature only the “short form”. The American Community Survey (ACS), an annual survey sent to even smaller sample of households, will replace the data previously collected on the “long form”. The AWG is concerned about the ACS’s surveys due to its reliance on small population samples and the extrapolation of those samples to arrive at its estimates.

 The census “short form” asks Americans two questions related to their identity. The first asks them to define their race, and the second asks if they are of Hispanic origin. There is no question, however, asking the national ancestry of the respondent. The ancestry question is important because it provides information on population subgroups within the broad racial/ethnic categories. Race is a much broader concept than nationality. After all, most people of Italian, Russian, German, and Swedish ancestry are grouped together as “Caucasian" in the absence of data concerning their national origin, along with most Iranians and most other peoples of the Middle East. Furthermore, the ancestry question captures “hidden” populations – persons who may not identify themselves with the race and Hispanic origin question - but who do identify with the country they or their ancestors came from. The addition of an ancestry question would give these people an opportunity to express their own self-definition.

 In the absence of ancestry data, population statistics have generally underestimated the number of Iranian Americans. The number of Iranian Americans was estimated by the most recent census, in 2000, to be 338,000. The actual number, however, is widely believed to be perhaps two to three times larger.

 The inclusion of an ancestry question in the census would greatly benefit the Iranian American community. With an accurate reflection of their population, Iranian Americans would stand to benefit from a variety of public, civic, and private sector services that rely on ancestry data for economic and social assessments. For example, many local and state agencies, health organizations, and social service organizations rely on ancestry information to identify and meet the needs of their constituencies. Researchers in many fields, from journalism to social science, rely on census data to study trends concerning educational and economic mobility and cultural assimilation.

 The efforts of the AWG have recently suffered a setback. The 2010 Census Advisory Committee (CAC), an advisory commission to the U.S. Census Bureau, rejected recommendations that an ancestry question be included in the uniform decennial short form. The Census Bureau is scheduled to submit the final survey content for the 2010 Census to Congress in April of 2007. With the deadline fast approaching, the AWG is in the process of organizing meetings with Congressional offices and committee staff to convey its concern over the omission of the ancestry question.

 A number of other Iranian American organizations, including the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA) and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) have joined the AWG in promoting the inclusion of the ancestry question in the 2010 census.