Revised Standards for Race and Ethnicity Data Collection a Step Forward for NHPI Communities

New minimum categories for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander race and ethnicity
Figure 1. New minimum categories for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander race and ethnicity

By Kim Kuʻulei Birnie

After almost 30 years, the federal minimum standards for collecting data on race and ethnicity have been updated. The required race categories have been expanded to include six Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) checkboxes for data collection – Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Chamorro, Tongan, Fijian and Marshallese.

This revision, released on March 29, is a significant development reminiscent of the historic addition of the NHPI category to the minimum standard in 1997 after an outpouring of community advocacy.

The Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Response, Recovery & Resilience Team (NHPI 3R) was among many agencies who provided detailed recommendations last year to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the agency tasked with determining the minimum set of categories that all federal agencies must use when collecting information on race and ethnicity.

The new standards directly address two critical priorities for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) data: using more detailed categories to support greater data disaggregation and provided guidance that can ensure that all NHPI community members are included in reported statistics.

According to Dr. Joseph Keaweʻaimoku Kaholokula, chair of the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the John A. Burns School of Medicine and NHPI 3R co-chair, “This is an important step toward improving the standardization and collection of more detailed Pacific Islander data, which will allow for better characterization of our diverse Pacific Islander groups to address health disparities and ensure resources get to those communities that need them the most.”

While these new standards are a significant improvement, it’s just a start to collecting data that will report a more accurate representation of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. NHPI 3R recommends the OMB encourage agencies to go beyond these standards by including additional checkboxes and a write-in option whenever feasible.

Tellie Matagi, director of Ka Pūnana at Papa Ola Lōkahi and the NHPI 3R Pacific Islander community lead, emphasized that providing more detailed options will help government employees gather more thorough data and ensure that the community is accurately represented.

“When you can identify a person’s specific race and/or ethnicity,” Matagi explained, “you gain a better understanding of their cultural background, which allows for the development of solutions tailored to the community’s needs.”

Furthermore, the “alone or combination” approach to reporting multiracial data should become the norm in Hawaiʻi where more than one in four individuals identify with two or more races and/or ethnicities. This method of reporting data can ensure that individuals with complex racial and ethnic backgrounds are fully represented.

NHPI 3R advocates for the continued improvement of data collection practices for NHPI communities and recommends local agencies adopt and implement these new standards in Hawaiʻi quickly.

Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Response, Recovery, and Resilience (NHPI 3R) convened by Papa Ola Lōkahi, is a coalition of more than 60 agencies and organizations focused on leveraging partnerships and collective strengths to best respond to health crises. They are committed to collecting, analyzing, and reporting accurate and relevant data & information; to identifying and lending support to initiatives across the Hawaiian Islands working to address the health and wellbeing among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders; and to unifying to establish a presence in the decision-making processes and policies that impact our communities.