Race and ethnicity data are one of the hallmarks of HMDA reporting. But the categories are by no means set in stone. The last major changes came for the 2000 Census, with all government agencies having to implement them by 2003. It is interesting both to wonder when the next revisions might come and to look back at how the present ones came about.

The big change 15 years ago in the racial definitions was to separate out the Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander category from the “Asian” category. And in the ethnic category, the Hispanic cohort was renamed “Hispanic or Latino.”

The addition of “Latino” was more of a geographical consideration than anything else, according to an analysis of the changes by the Office of Management and Budget (https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/fedreg_1997standards). People of that ethnicity identified themselves as “Hispanic” primarily in the eastern part of the country, and “Latino” primarily in the western part of the country.

There was some sentiment to add an ethnic category for Arabs and Middle Easterners, but that was not adopted. Currently, there are only two etnic categories: Hispanic or Latino, and Not Hispanic or Latino.

Many may wonder if the Native Hawaiian category is significant enough to rate its own category. But in recent years Native Hawaiians have sometimes gotten more mortgage dollars than American Indians, who outnumber Hawaiians. The split has given more clarity on the nation’s indigenous populations, which are small but rapidly growing.

LendingPatterns™ shows that in 2014, Native Hawaiians received $4.3 billion in mortgage dollars, while American Indians received $3.7 billion. According to the 2010 Census, 1.2 million people identified themselves as Native Hawaiians, either alone or in combination with another race. According to the American Community Survey, 5.2 million people identified themselves as Indian alone or in combination in 2013.

LendingPatterns™ 2014 stats show that Indians actually got more mortgages than Hawaiians, though fewer dollars. But Hawaiians are concentrated in higher-cost cities like Honolulu and Los Angeles, which could explain the difference.

The OMB analysis says that Native Hawaiian commenters actually wanted to be included in the “American Indian and Alaska Native” category, but that Indian leaders objected to that.

What comprises the Pacific Islander part of the category? Mainly it is indigenous populations from American territories like Guam and America Samoa. But it also includes a large number of smaller populations, including “Carolinian, Fijian, Kosraean, Melanesian, Micronesian, Northern Mariana Islander, Palauan, Papua New Guinean, Ponapean (Pohnpelan), Polynesian, Solomon Islander, Tahitian, Tarawa Islander, Tokelauan, Tongan, Trukese (Chuukese), and Yapese.”

The 2000-2003 recategorizations replaced ones that were in effect for about twenty years, so the time for newer ones may be closer than we think. With a rapid increase of minority populations projected, and some states (including New Mexico) already Hispanic “majority minority,” demographics could come to have consequences for how the government think about minorities and classifies categories like race and ethnicity.