Michigan has one of the nation’s largest concentrations of Arab Americans and people with origins in the Middle East and North Africa. But because of the way the government collects data, it is hard to know exactly how many people this includes and how to best get services and funding allocated to those communities.

Michigan lawmakers in February of this year proposed two bills that would allow the state to add a designation for people with origins in the Middle East or North Africa (MENA) when collecting demographic data — a tool supporters say will lead to better support for health and education and other community resources across the state.

. . .

The OMB revision announced last week, the first in close to three decades, creates a new racial category for people with origins in the MENA region. It also creates a combined race and ethnicity question, eliminating what critics called a confusing two-step process that was out of step with how many people identify. People filling out federal forms will soon have the option to select multiple ethnicity options in this category, a change that advocates expect to allow for a more disaggregated view of the Hispanic/Latino and MENA American population, among others.

Before this change, MENA American communities in the U.S. “struggled to quantify the inequities they face in their daily lives, from education to small business to healthcare and research to language access,” Ismail said.

“Nationally, the estimation is 3.5 to 5.1 million,” said Germine Awad, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan who has worked extensively on issues of identity in the Arab and MENA American communities. “No one knows [the exact number]. That’s the point.”

Read the complete article in PBS