Washington — Given the opportunity to better reflect their racial and ethnic heritage, 6.8 million people identified themselves as members of more than one racial group on the 2000 census, government officials announced Monday.
The multiple-race options on the 2000 census, the first ever, represent the federal government's ongoing efforts to accommodate an increasingly diverse population.
Last week, preliminary Census Bureau figures showed that Hispanics, who can be of any race, have virtually tied African-Americans as the nation's largest minority group. New figures released Monday show that nearly 1 in 3 Americans belongs to a racial or ethnic minority group, an increase from roughly 1 in 4 just 10 years ago.
The nation's changing racial complexion was fueled during the 1990s by Asian and Hispanic immigrants and by the rising number of children born to parents of different races or ethnic groups.
Unlike past census head counts, which forced people to identify themselves with only one racial group, the 2000 census let people select up to six racial groups to identify themselves. The added options produced 63 government-recognized racial categories, which include such combinations as black/white/Native Hawaiian and Asian/American Indian/some other race.
Since this is the first count to offer multiracial categories, it's not possible to measure any change among people who are of more than one race or ethnic group. Still, the numbers provide a glimpse of how a growing number of Americans see themselves, and how the notions of racial identity may be changing.
Although the census form allowed people to choose racial identities that had as many as six components white/black/American Indian and Alaska Native/Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander/some other race the vast majority identified themselves as part of only one or two.
Some 97.6 percent of the nation's 281 million residents selected only one race. The remaining 2.4 percent (6.8 million) identified themselves as multiracial.