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Count MENA: Census 2020 Update
Originally published on LinkedIn Sep. 24, 2023
This month we finally got some more details from the US Census 2020 results, including a more granular view of the Middle Eastern & North African (MENA) population.* The most interesting visualization I've seen so far has been the geographic distribution of the largest MENA groups by County, shown below. Depending on where you live, you may think most MENA community members are Lebanese or Egyptian, but there are also significant clusters of Iranian and Iraqi communities, in addition to Palestinian, Syrian and more.
* For more details on the working MENA definition here, refer to the Census Bureau's ongoing research and outreach efforts with community experts, stakeholders, and researchers and the results of the 2015 National Content Test, in addition to more recent comments shared during the May 2022 National Advisory Committee Meeting. The Office of Management & Budget (OMB) has also been gathering public comments on the proposed revisions via the OMB Interagency Technical Working Group on Race and Ethnicity Standards.
It is important to remember much of this detail still remains within the broader White racial category, where MENA respondents constituted just 1.5% of the White alone or in combination population at 3.5 million total. However, many community groups recognize this is likely an undercount, as the Arab American Institute has ben monitoring over the years to estimate the gap between the reported Census figures and more likely community presence.
It is also worth noting that just over 5% of the MENA count here includes Israelis, since this is primarily a geographic based definition with diverse representation across many ethnoreligious communities including Israeli Jews, Coptic Christians, and other transnational ethnic communities.
This is also a good time to recognize the need for MENA Employee & Business Resource Groups (ERG/BRGs)* to acknowledge what can be drastically different lived experiences relative to other White ethnic groups not only in the US, but in many other locations outside the MENA region. Similar to many Hispanics & Latinos, ethnicity is more likely to impact a MENA employee's experience across all aspects of their professional and personal lives. Simply using race for identification purposes can be a huge disservice for those who do not fit the majority White phenotype or other visual and social ethnic indicators that can influence how they are treated, impacting cumulative outcomes across education, health, and employment opportunities over the course of a lifetime.
* Some organizations recognize a difference between ERGs and BRGs, with the latter "focused on driving strategic business imperatives forward, in addition to addressing the purposes outlined for ERGs." See The Diversity Movement for more information on the differences among Affinity Groups, ERGs, and BRGs.
This is also why I'm pleased to support the formation of a MENA ERG/BRG Exchange on LinkedIn, uniting MENA ERG/BRG representatives across multiple organizations to share resources, ideas, and experiences to foster more recognized MENA ERG/BRG communities globally. If you are interested in participating, submit your request to join today.
It's encouraging to see how many MENA ERGs & BRGs are already established in several organizations across multiple industries and I'm looking forward to seeing this community continue to grow to provide even more meaningful support to employees and employers who want to better serve their MENA colleagues and customers.
Arab American Institute, "About Arab Americans," available at https://www.aaiusa.org/about-arab-americans
MENA ERG/BRG Exchange on LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12876568/
Helen Samhan, "Middle East/North Africa (MENA) Reporting Category Discussant comments," US Census NAC Meeting May 2022, available at https://www2.census.gov/about/partners/cac/nac/meetings/2022-05/discussant-mena-reporting-category.pdf
OMB Interagency Technical Working Group on Race and Ethnicity Standards, "Initial Proposal 2: Add “Middle Eastern or North African” (MENA) as a new minimum category," Last Revised May 10, 2023, available at https://spd15revision.gov/content/spd15revision/en/proposals/mena.html
US Census Bureau, "Lebanese, Iranian and Egyptian Populations Represented Nearly Half of the MENA Population in 2020 Census," Sep. 21, 2023, available at https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2023/09/2020-census-dhc-a-mena-population.html
--, "Census Bureau Releases 2020 Census Population for More Than 200 New Detailed Race and Ethnicity Groups," Sep. 21, 2023, available at https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2023/09/2020-census-dhc-a-race-overview.html
--, "Forum on Ethnic Groups from the Middle East and North Africa," May 29, 2015, available at https://www.census.gov/library/working-papers/2015/demo/2015-MENA-Experts.html
--, "2015 Census Tests, National Content Test," Last Revised Nov. 23, 2021, available at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/decade/2020/planning-management/plan/testing-activities/2015-census-tests/national-content-test.html
--, "National Advisory Committee – 2022 Spring Virtual Meeting," available at https://www.census.gov/about/cac/nac/meetings/2022-05-meeting.html