Grandparents and Grandchildren

In Honor of Grandparents Day, a Look at a Collection of Statistics about Grandparents Who Live With Their Grandchildren

Statistics from the American Community Survey provide information on grandparents living with their grandchildren, including those who have primary care of them. These statistics help federal, state and local program managers understand the needs of this group and design programs for both generations.

2014 American Community Survey data released last year tell us who these grandparents are and how their numbers and profiles have changed since data on grandparent caregivers were collected in Census 2000.

Are there more grandparents who live with their grandchildren now than in 2000?

The percentage of the population 30 years and older living with grandchildren has increased from 3.6 percent in 2000 to 3.8 percent in 2014.

A variety of factors may be contributing to this increase. For example, recent immigrants are more likely to live in extended family households. Births outside of marriage are associated with a mother and child more likely to live with the mother’s parent(s). Economic need leads parents to leave a child with a grandparent while they travel for work, and some race/ethnic groups are more likely to live in multigenerational households.

Is there a difference among racial and ethnic groups?

Non-Hispanic whites are the least likely to live under the same roof as their grandchildren (2.6%), an increase from 2.2% in 2000. The largest drop happened among blacks, who saw a decline from 8.2 percent in 2000 to 5.6 percent in 2014.

Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders were most likely to live with grandchildren in 2014 (9.9 percent), followed by American Indians and Alaska Natives and people of Some Other Race (both at 7.6 percent), Hispanics (7.1 percent) and Asians (6.0 percent).

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Are grandparents the primary caregivers?

Not necessarily and, in fact, the percentage responsible for their grandchildren dropped during the same period, from 42.0 percent in 2000 to 36.4 percent in 2014. There was no change in the percentage of grandparents responsible for grandchildren where the grandchild’s parents were not living in the household, which remained stable at about 34.0 percent.

Since 2000, there has been a drop in grandparents who are their grandchildren’s primary caregivers among most race groups. For instance, the percent of blacks living with grandchildren who were responsible for those grandchildren dropped from 51.7 percent in 2000 to 44.0 percent in 2014.

Comparing race and ethnic groups in 2014, American Indian and Alaska Native grandparents who live with grandchildren were most likely to be responsible for raising them (51.1 percent). Asians were least likely (14.8 percent).

The U.S. Census Bureau began collecting data on grandparents who have primary responsibility for the care of their grandchildren in 1999 during a test for the American Community Survey. The 2000 Census asked about grandparents as caregivers and the questions remain on the American Community Survey today.

 

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What Does it Mean to be in Poverty in the U.S., Statistically Speaking?

Written by Ashley Edwards and Jose Pacas, Poverty Statistics Branch

You may have heard public officials or the media talk recently about the poverty rate in America. In advance of the U.S. Census Bureau’s release of its annual income and poverty reports next week, we thought it might be worth reviewing how poverty is officially defined and measured in the United States.

The official poverty measure for the United States was established in 1969 and is calculated based on data collected in the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is a household survey sponsored jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and has data dating back to 1965 on key socio-economic topics about the population.

Two factors are used to determine a family’s or individual’s poverty status: (1) their family or individual income and (2) their poverty threshold. If a family’s total income for the year is below its assigned poverty threshold, then that family — and every individual in it — is considered to be in poverty.

It seems simple, but understanding how poverty is measured and how to interpret the resulting statistics can be confusing. Let’s start with how we define a family. The Census Bureau groups people living in a household into families based on their relationships to one another. Families consist of individuals who are related by birth, marriage or adoption. A household can consist of a single family, a single individual, multiple families, multiple unrelated people living together (such as roommates), or some combination of families and  unrelated individuals (Table 1).

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Once people are grouped into families within a household, the appropriate incomes are combined into a total family income measure. For an unrelated individual, their personal income is their family income. However, many people are surprised by what is and is not included in this income measure. When calculating the official poverty measure, family income is calculated from only pretax cash income. That includes things like earnings before taxes, Social Security, pensions and retirement income, cash public assistance and child support, but excludes capital gains, noncash benefits such as food assistance or housing subsidies, as well as the value of property and money saved in bank accounts.

Once total family income is calculated, poverty status is determined by comparing a family’s annual income to their assigned poverty threshold. Poverty thresholds are set by the Office of Management and Budget’s Statistical Policy Directive 14 and are updated every year for inflation. Thresholds vary by only two factors: (1) size of the family and (2) age of the family members. Thresholds do not vary geographically, meaning families of the same composition will have the same poverty threshold regardless of where they live in the United States. See Table 2 for 2015 poverty thresholds.

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If a family’s total annual income is below their poverty threshold, then that family (including every individual in it) is considered to be in poverty for the year.

Measures of poverty in the United States are extremely valuable, as they provide a statistical yardstick to gauge the well-being of families and evaluate year-to-year changes in poverty for the country as a whole and for specific subgroups. It is important to understand how these estimates are produced and how those methods impact the interpretation of these statistics. The poverty thresholds used for the official poverty measure are not intended to serve as a complete description of what people and families need to live, and the pretax cash income measures may not fully capture the resources available to families to meet their living expenses.

On September 13, 2016, the Census Bureau will release the new official poverty estimates, along with estimates from the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). The SPM makes alternate assumptions about the grouping of families, the assignment of poverty thresholds, and the calculation of family income. While the SPM is not the “official” source of poverty and is not used to determine eligibility for government programs, it does provide valuable information on the well-being of low-income individuals. We invite the public and data users of all levels to learn more about how the Census Bureau measures poverty in the United States.

 

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What is the Supplemental Poverty Measure and How Does It Differ From the Official Measure?

Written by: Trudi Renwick and Liana Fox, Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division

Since the publication of the first official U.S. poverty statistics in 1964, there has been a continuing debate about the best way to measure income and poverty in the United States.

In 2010, an interagency technical working group asked the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to develop a new measure that would improve our understanding of the economic well-being of American families and enhance our ability to measure the effect of federal policies on those living in poverty. The technical design of the supplemental poverty measure draws on the recommendations of a 1995 National Academy of Sciences report and the extensive research on poverty measurement conducted over the past 20 years. See the history of poverty measures in the United States here.

On September 13, 2016, the Census Bureau will release the sixth report on the supplemental poverty measure, containing estimates for the 2015 calendar year. The report presents estimates for the official and supplemental poverty measures and discusses differences between the two measures. The major differences are listed in the table below and in this infographic.

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The official poverty measure compares an individual’s or family’s pretax cash income to a set of thresholds that vary by the size of the family and the ages of the family members. These official poverty calculations do not take into account the value of in-kind benefits, such as those provided by nutrition assistance or housing and energy programs. Nor do they take into account regional differences in living costs or expenses, such as housing.

However, the supplemental poverty measure takes into account family resources and expenses not included in the official measure as well as geographic variation. First, it adds the value of in-kind benefits that are available to buy basic goods to cash income. In-kind benefits include nutritional assistance, subsidized housing and home energy assistance. Then it subtracts necessary expenses for critical goods and services not included in the thresholds from resources. Necessary expenses that must be subtracted include income taxes, Social Security payroll taxes, childcare and other work-related expenses, child support payments to another household, and contributions toward the cost of medical care and health insurance premiums.

Thresholds used in the supplemental poverty measure are produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics using Consumer Expenditure Survey data that show how much people spend on basic necessities (food, clothing, shelter and utilities) and are adjusted for geographic differences in the cost of housing. The supplemental poverty measure thresholds are not intended to assess eligibility for government assistance.

Next week’s report will compare 2015 supplemental poverty estimates with 2015 official poverty estimates for numerous demographic groups. It will also provide state-level supplemental poverty statistics using three years of Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement data and compare 2014 supplemental poverty estimates with 2015 estimates. In addition, the report will examine the effect on supplemental poverty rates of excluding specific resource or expenditure elements, such as noncash benefits, tax credits and medical expenses.

For more details on the supplemental measure, please see the technical appendixes of the September 2015 report or the technical webinar presented in November 2011.

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How the Census Bureau Measures Income and Poverty

Written by: Trudi Renwick, Assistant Division Chief, Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division

Income, poverty and health insurance statistics for 2015 from the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) will be released Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016. One-year statistics from the 2015 American Community Survey (ACS) will be released on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016.

In all likelihood, the national statistics from these two sources will not be identical. Why not, which is correct? Well, it is complicated.

There are several reasons why the statistics from the two surveys differ. One of the most notable ways is that the CPS asks respondents about income in the previous calendar year while the ACS asks respondents about income in a rolling 12-month period throughout the year.

The CPS is conducted every month and serves as the nation’s primary source of statistics on labor force characteristics. Supplements are added in most months; the CPS ASEC provides the official annual statistics on the nation’s poverty levels as well as statistics on income, age, sex, race, marital status, educational attainment, employee benefits, work schedules, school enrollment, health insurance, noncash benefits and migration.

The CPS is the longest-running survey conducted by the Census Bureau. The CPS ASEC asks detailed questions categorizing income into over 50 sources. The key purpose of the CPS ASEC is to provide timely and detailed estimates of income and poverty and to measure change in these national-level estimates. The CPS ASEC is the official source of the national poverty estimates calculated in accordance with the Office of Management and Budget’s Statistical Policy Directive 14. For more information on the CPS ASEC, visit <www.census.gov/programs-surveys/cps.html>.

The ACS, on the other hand, is the only source of small-area statistics available on a wide range of important social and economic characteristics for all communities in the country. In addition to income, poverty and health insurance, other topics include education, language ability, the foreign-born population, marital status, migration, homeownership, the cost and value of homes, and many more.

The ACS has an annual sample size of about 3.54 million addresses across the United States and Puerto Rico and includes both housing units and group quarters (e.g., nursing homes and prisons). The ACS is conducted in every county throughout the nation, and every municipio in Puerto Rico, where it is called the Puerto Rico Community Survey. Beginning in 2006 (2005 data year), ACS data were released annually for geographic areas with populations of 65,000 and greater. For information on the ACS sample design and other topics, visit <www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs>.

Statistics from these two surveys may differ for multiple reasons. First, income questions on the CPS ASEC are much more detailed than the summary questions asked on the ACS. For the CPS ASEC, interviewers administer the survey to respondents while people primarily respond to ACS questions over the Internet or by mail. (Interviewers follow up with households who do not respond to the ACS online or by mail.)

Second, the reference periods for the two surveys are very different. The CPS ASEC asks respondents to report on their income in the previous calendar year. The ACS asks about income in the prior 12 months. Since the ACS is a continuous survey administered throughout the year, some respondents to the 2015 ACS (those who fill out the survey in January 2015) are reporting income received between January 2014 and December 2014, while other respondents (those who fill out the survey in December 2015) are reporting income received between December 2014 and November 2015.

These differences often result in different national statistics for such key indicators as poverty, median income and income inequality. Despite differences in the “levels” of these indicators, the trends over time tend to be very similar across the two surveys. The following graphs show median household income and poverty rates from the ACS compared with statistics from the CPS ASEC for previous years. The red line adjusts the CPS ASEC for the differences in reference periods.

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Many people contact us each year asking which estimate to use for a particular purpose. For national statistics, we recommend the CPS ASEC because it provides a historical time series at the national level and in some cases, back more than half a century. Because of the larger sample size and smaller sampling errors, we recommend using the ACS for subnational geographies.

If you are interested in a longer time series than is available from the ACS, generally we have recommended using two- or three-year averages from the CPS ASEC.

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Health Insurance Coverage Measurement in Two Surveys

By Marina Vornovitsky, Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division

Next week, the U.S. Census Bureau is releasing two important sources for health insurance statistics in the United States: the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey.

Many people ask us which estimate they should use. Well, it depends. The benefit of the Current Population Survey is the combination of detailed employment and detailed income information, along with the health insurance coverage statistics, which provides an excellent overall picture of the well-being of our nation. With the new Current Population Survey baseline in 2013, annual comparisons are rich with detail. For detailed analysis of subnational geographies, we recommend using the American Community Survey statistics because of its larger sample size and smaller sampling errors. Also, the American Community Survey can provide historic comparisons back to 2008.

Both surveys have questions that attempt to measure the same phenomena. They obtain a person’s health insurance status by asking if they have insurance through a number of different sources, such as an employer, directly through an insurance company, Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Administration and other public sector insurance, and the military. So, how are the two surveys different? They differ in the timing of data collection, the reference period, the time frame of the resulting health insurance coverage estimates, and, ultimately, in uses of the data.

The Current Population Survey has produced health insurance statistics since 1987, making it one of the most widely used sources of statistics on health insurance coverage in the United States. The survey provides information on health insurance status (insured or not insured) for the nation and by demographic groups. The Current Population Survey is sponsored jointly by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to provide monthly labor force statistics for the population of the United States. Detailed employment and income data available from this survey make it possible to view changes in health insurance coverage in relation to changes in the overall economic well-being of the nation.

Two years ago, after more than a decade of research, we implemented redesigned health insurance coverage questions in the Current Population Survey to improve the accuracy of our measure of health insurance coverage. With this strong baseline beginning with calendar year 2013, we can measure the impact of the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act that went into effect in 2014, as well as any future changes in health insurance coverage.

Starting in 2008, the Census Bureau also began asking about health insurance coverage using the American Community Survey. With its much larger sample size, we can see health insurance statistics for subnational geographies, such as states, counties, metro areas, congressional districts and cities. This level of geographical detail is not available from any other survey that collects data on health insurance coverage.

The concept of “uninsured” is also slightly different between the two surveys. In the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement, which is conducted in February through April, respondents answer questions about whether they had health insurance coverage at any time in the previous calendar year. The survey, thus, measures if a person was insured on any day during the previous year. Individuals are considered “uninsured” only if, for the entire year, they had no coverage under any type of health insurance.

In contrast, the American Community Survey is a rolling sample of households collected continuously all year long. We ask if a person is currently covered by any of the listed types of health insurance. So, the American Community Survey measures health insurance for the population based on whether people are insured at the point-in-time that they answered the survey during the year of collection.

There is also a variety of differences in the survey logistics. Census Bureau field representatives conduct the Current Population Survey by personal visit or telephone. For the American Community Survey, many respondents receive a paper form to complete and return in the mail or they can reply via the internet. Because of space limits within a paper survey, the American Community Survey asks fewer and less detailed questions than the Current Population Survey. In addition, the American Community Survey asks about the insurance coverage of each household member specifically, while the Current Population Survey asks if anyone in the household is covered, and if so, who that is.

With these variations and others, the two surveys produce consistent, though slightly different statistics on health insurance coverage.

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