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Compass staff are frequently asked by users if they can get more data on a specific demographic group not represented on our website. For example, data around sexual orientation, those who speak another language other than English in a community or neighborhood, or a cultural community with a small population are not part of the standard breakdowns that Compass provides.

In this article, we’ll take a look at data reporting standards for all federal reporting, including the American Community Survey, which is a large source of the data updates on Compass.

Here are three things you should know about our demographic breakdowns of data:

Census data reporting standards are determined by the federal government

The quality of demographic data collected ranges anywhere from no data collected, to very detailed data collection. Here are a few examples:

For the standard race, ethnicity, disability, and gender categories, a range of data is collected and reported in Census products. For example, at the federal level, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has outlined minimum standard race categories as:

  • American Indian or Alaska native
  • Asian
  • Black or African American
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • White

Under the standard ethnicity categories, the minimum standards are Hispanic or Latino, and Not Hispanic or Latino.

Disability questions on the ACS look at six areas of possible disability including:

  • Sensory disability
  • Physical disability
  • Mental disability
  • Self-care disability
  • Go-outside-home disability
  • Employment disability

As with race and ethnicity, disability data is collected on a high level, but do not accurately reflect the full range of people living with disabilities. As these demographic categories continue to change and evolve to better reflect the make-up of those living in the U.S., there are still people who get missed in data collection and data reporting because of how these categories are constructed and aggregated for data protection purposes.

For categories such as language spoken and ancestry, the ACS in fact collects really detailed information and then recodes into hundreds of language categories. In these categories, write-in options allow for respondents to best identify their languages spoken at home and ancestral background. For confidentiality and reporting purposes, the ACS recodes these into 4 or 42 language buckets for analysis.

Looking at languages spoken, depending on the size of the population speaking that language at home in the U.S., the level of categorization changes. The basic four-language group classification includes:

  • Spanish
  • Other Indo-European languages
  • Asian and Pacific Island languages
  • All other languages

At a 42-language category, although this provides a little more detail, still more than 1,333 languages are coded into these categories. For example, additional languages under Asian and Pacific Island languages include:

  • Chinese (including Mandarin, Cantonese)
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Hmong
  • Vietnamese
  • Khmer
  • Thai, Lao, or other Tai Kadai languages
  • Other languages of Asian
  • Tagalog (including Filipino)
  • Ilocano, Samoan, Hawaiian, or other Austronesian languages

The American Community Survey’s sex responses are collected from those who identify with the response options of “Male” and “Female.” There are no questions on the ACS asking about gender, sexual orientation or sex at birth. So, while the data is collected it does not have data on lived experiences outside of those presently identifying as “Male” and “Female.”

Data collectioN


Demographic variable

Collected but could do better

Collected well but the reporting is not helpful

Not collected

Race Yes    
Ethnicity Yes    
Disability Yes    
Gender Yes    
Language   Yes  
Ancestry   Yes  
Sexuality     Yes


Change in data disaggregation is happening…slowly

As community data users, we understand the need to better understand the people and communities we interact with the most. One way to better understand the unique experiences of the many racial and ethnic communities in Minnesota is to look at a combination of self-reported race, ancestry, birthplace, and parental characteristics. In our cultural community profiles, we’ve used the University of Minnesota’s Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) to get data on 27 of the largest cultural communities in Minnesota, including African American, Chinese, Ethiopian, Filipino, Hmong, Indian, Korean, Mexican, Native American, Somali, Vietnamese, and more.

Our cultural community profiles are not meant to replace actual data collection that is informed and guided by the community, rather to work with what is publically available to help communities make better-informed decisions. In previous Insights articles, we have talked about the importance of disaggregated data.

Including more comprehensive categories for more people to better identify themselves and reporting out allows for more questions to be answered. There is currently work happening at the federal level to revise some of the standards we see today.

As part of Executive Order 13985, the White House Equitable Data Working Group has several recommendations that call for exactly what we’ve been hearing from our users.

  • Revise the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Statistical Policy Directive 15: Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity
  • Generate disaggregated statistical estimates
  • Establish best practices for measuring sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and rural location

You can take actionable next steps to improve data collection

  • Visit our cultural community profiles page to learn more about our methodology for Minnesota’s largest communities.
  • Learn more about the Census’s differential privacy data. This confidentiality step introduces additional “noise,” and impact the accuracy of the data.
  • Advocate and normalize expanding race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability categories that still roll up to the minimum standards required for reporting.
  • Stay in touch about next steps from the Equitable Data Working Group. Read more of the White House Equitable Data Working Group report here.
  • Provide public input or attend a bi-monthly public listening session on Federal Race and Ethnicity Standards Revision.