Counting Every Sikh in Census 2010

Click Here to read the form for Census 2010.

Click Here to read the form for Census 2010.

Over the past few weeks, the Coalition has received varied requests for our involvement with Census 2010 efforts across the United States. Next year’s census count promises to be one of the largest mobilizing events of this administration. But the Sikh Coalition has decided not to play an active role in the Census next year for the reason described below.

Like most Sikhs, we would like for there to be an accurate count of Sikhs in the United States. If we had an accurate count of how many Sikhs live in the United States and where, we would gain many advantages – from being able to showcase voting blocks in certain areas to obtaining funding for our community’s needs. Every time we walk into a legislator’s office to ask them to do something for Sikhs, the first question is always “How many Sikhs are there in my district.” Therefore, having an accurate count of our community is key to our progress in the United States.

However, after months of research into this matter, we have discovered that Census 2010 will not be able to provide us with any Sikh headcount at all. This is the primary reason why the Coalition has chosen not to play an active role in the census effort next year.

We recently spoke with Karen Humes, Assistant Division Chief for Special Populations at the Census Bureau in Washington, DC. Karen’s job is to work alongside the Race and Ancestry branches to code the data that comes in on census forms from around the country. You can read a letter from Karen that confirms this information by clicking here.

There are 4 options for how a Sikh could possibly fill out the 2010 census form to try and be counted as a Sikh. Each of these options involves Question 9 – The Race Question – on the census form. Here’s what Karen told us about each one:

Option 1: Under the question “What is Person 1’s race?,” a Sikh could tick the box next to either “Other Asian” or “Some other race” and write in the word “Sikh” in the text space.

Karen was very clear that any attempt to write in the word “Sikh” in any text box on the census form will result in the person being counted as “Asian Indian.” As she explained it, the census’ computers are coded so that any write-in of the word “Sikh” results in the person automatically being dropped into the “Asian Indian” category. There is no “Sikh” category.

Option 2: Under the question “What is Person 1’s race?,” a Sikh could tick the box next to both “Asian Indian” and “Some other race” and write in the word “Sikh” in the text space.

If more than one type of race box is ticked, the person will be counted as someone of mixed-race heritage. If the person ticks both and writes in “Sikh” under “Some other race” then the person will be counted as mixed-race of Asian heritage.

Option 3: Under the question “What is Person 1’s race?,” a Sikh could simply tick the box next to “Some other race” or “Other Asian” and not write anything in the text space.

In this case, the Sikh would simply be counted as “Other Asian” or “Other race,” which are both reported categories in the Census data.

Option 4: A Sikh could leave the question “What is Person 1’s race?” unanswered on the census form.

If the race question is left unanswered, the Census Bureau will attempt to impute a race based on other information. For example, they will check back to match your return from Census 2000, if possible, or will check the race of others in your household. If all else fails, they could impute your neighbor’s race to you with the help of a stratification algorithm.

In sum, the message from Census Bureau officials is clear: There is no Sikh category that it counts and writing in the word “Sikh” under the race questions will have Sikhs counted as “Asian Indian.”

The Census Bureau has also stated that it will not reconsider the decision not to include Sikhs in its census count because it does not traditionally include any religious categories in the census.

The Coalition will always support efforts to get Sikhs counted in the United States. That is partly why we are doing further research into the American Community Survey (ACS) – a yearly data collection process by the Census Bureau that counts people by religious affiliation across the country. Our understanding is that the ACS provides more accurate data than the census and focuses on more socio-economic categories than the census. We have been told that some versions of the ACS, unlike the Census, also have a specific question about religion, which we believe would more accurately reflect the number of Sikhs in our community. We will be looking into this over the next few months and will let the community know the results of our research.

In sum, while the census is a grand effort being put forth by the government next year, the Coalition believes it would be best for us to spend the Sikh community’s money on an initiative that benefits the Sikh community specifically. Because the census does not provide us with a headcount of Sikhs, we currently believe that the best way to spend our resources to try and get a Sikh headcount is to work with the ACS and not the census.


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