ALBUQUERQUE — The Census Bureau is considering changes to its race and ethnicity questions that would reclassify some minorities who were considered ‘‘white’’ in the past, a move that may speed up the date when America’s white population falls below 50 percent.
Census Director John Thompson said the bureau is testing a number of new questions and may combine its race and ethnicity questions into one category for the 2020 census. That would allow respondents to choose multiple races.
The possible changes include allowing Latinos to give more details about their ethnic backgrounds and creating a distinct category for people of Middle Eastern and North African descent.
‘‘We haven’t made any decisions yet,’’ Thompson said in an interview before his meeting Tuesday with Native American leaders in New Mexico. ‘‘But I don’t think these new questions would diminish anything. It would just give us more information about our diverse populations.’’
William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, said the proposed changes would grant residents more freedom to define their race and ethnicity.
In the past, ‘‘white’’ was the only racial option available to Arab-American respondents, a classification that didn’t reflect their social standing and hurt efforts for their political empowerment, said Samer Khalaf, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
For years, many US Latinos also checked the ‘‘white’’ box because options were limited, said Lorenzo Cano, associate director of the Center of Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston.
The Census Bureau estimates the population will have more minorities than whites for the first time around 2043.