Stand Up and Be Counted as Armenian in the US Census

Posted on May. 21. 2020

All kinds of figures are bandied about concerning the numbers of Armenians living in the United States. Some say there may be as many as two million but in the 2010 US Census’s American Community Survey, only 474,559 Armenians were estimated, while in the 2017 American Community Survey, the number of Americans with full or partial Armenian ancestry was given as 485,970. That is a huge discrepancy.

Having more reliable figures would be very useful for many things. It would help Armenian organizations be able to plan better to meet the needs of their community. Knowing the population’s age distribution, and countries of origin, would be helpful.

If there is an undercount, then more accurate figures would increase the political clout of the Armenians to a certain degree, and would also increase the resources that Armenians would receive through various local, state and federal government programs. Armenian schools, educational programs and Armenian-language resources and services will receive greater funding as will healthcare, medical services and various programs for the Armenian elderly. Armenian representation in various bodies which are connected with their proportion of the population would increase, as would certain job positions.

The decennial US census up through 2000 was conducted with two forms, long and short. Only one out of six people would get the long more detailed survey form at random, which would include socioeconomic questions. After 2000, the American Community Survey was created to investigate the more detailed information yearly. It is based on sampling a small percentage of the general population and then making extrapolations. Consequently, it is not as complete or reliable as the decennial census in its results. The aforementioned census estimates of the Armenian population have been determined through this same sampling process.

The 2020 decennial census is different than the last two decennial ones because it asks for those who identify as white (or black, American Indian or Alaskan native) to specify their origins. In other words, in the past if Armenians considered themselves part of the “white race” they might have felt reluctant to use the only way to identify themselves as Armenian, by claiming that Armenian was a separate race. This has changed in the current census form.

The leading organizations of the Armenian-American community, whether churches, philanthropic organizations or political organizations, have never pursued the alternate approach of sponsoring a census individually or jointly either on a national or regional level. Other ethnic or religious groups in the US have done this in order to gather demographic and socioeconomic information to improve their planning and operations. It is expensive even on a local level and would costs millions of dollars, but in the long-term the benefits would be more than commensurate. All kinds of useful information could be gleaned from such efforts, but unfortunately it does not seem likely to occur at present. Why this is so is a topic for another editorial.

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