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Updated Census Data for Puerto Rico

The U.S. Census Bureau has released new information from the most recent Census. One of the biggest pieces of news from the new data is that there are now five states and territories in which people who identify themselves as white are not the largest group: California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

This is a trend across the nation. People who identify as white now constitute 58 percent of the population nationwide, down from 64 percent in 2010, and 69 percent in 2000. The number of people who describe themselves as multiracial has nearly tripled, from 9 million in 2010 to 33.8 million in 2020.

How much has Puerto Rico’s population changed?

In Puerto Rico in particular, it seems possible that the change in population statistics may reflect a change in self-presentation more than a change in the makeup of the population.

Census forms ask whether respondents are Hispanic, and 98.9% of Puerto Ricans choose that option. The choices for racial heritage, however, are White; Black or African-American; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. A decade ago, 75.8% chose “white.” The number fell to 17.1% in 2020.

In 2010, just 3.3% chose multiracial responses, while in 2020 49.8% did so.

Activists in Puerto Rico worked, leading up to the 2020 census, to encourage more people to choose “black” or multiracial identification. Academics have analyzed attitudes toward ethnic identification in Puerto Rico, pointing out that census data shows that people increasingly chose to identify themselves as white until 1950. There is no evidence that the ethnic makeup of the Island changed during that time, any more than there is evidence that it changed strikingly between 2010 and 2020.

Discussions about race

The question was removed from the census in 1960. An option to choose multiracial identity was added in 2000.

Traditionally, Puerto Rico has taken the position that racial prejudice was not found in Puerto Rico as it was in the States. Census activists, however, said that the lack of information about race made it difficult to work for equality.

“There was the economic crisis, Hurricane Maria, earthquakes. And now we’ve got, you know, the coronavirus. And they want to know, like, are black Puerto Ricans more affected than other Puerto Ricans? You know, probably. They think so. But because there is no data, they can’t know for sure,” Adrian Florido explained on NPR.

“The census race question is trying to capture the changing demographic composition of the country from the federal and state levels down to neighborhood blocks,” Science News explains. “The stated aim — at least for the last half century — is to help policy makers and demographers assess whether members of different racial groups have equal access to housing, education, employment and other services, as mandated by law.”


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