Health Insurance Coverage Measurement in Two Surveys

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By Brett O’Hara

Next week, the U.S. Census Bureau is releasing two 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. While both surveys have questions that attempt to measure the same phenomena, they go about it in different ways.

Since 1987, the Current Population Survey has produced health insurance statistics every year, making it one of the most widely used sources of statistics on health insurance coverage in the United States. It provides statistics on health insurance status (insured or not insured), as well as the type of coverage, for the nation and by demographic groups, and shows us trends over the last couple of decades (See blog on recent changes to the Current Population Survey)

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 a broader range of geographic levels, including all 50 states, all counties and metro areas, and many other small geographic areas.

Many people ask us which estimate to use for a particular purpose. Our answer differs this year as we introduced a new set of health insurance coverage questions in the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

Both surveys 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. However, the surveys differ in both their times of collection and reference periods.

Like the other topics in the Current Population Survey’s Annual and Social and Economic Supplement, which is conducted in February, March and April, respondents answer questions about the previous calendar year. Specifically, we ask if 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. They 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 of 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. 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. Estimates from these two surveys rose and fell in parallel between 2009 through 2012. This degree of consistency between the two surveys collected under such different conditions gives us confidence that these statistics are useful for those who need to understand the state of health insurance coverage in America.

For this year, as always, the benefit of the Current Population Survey is the combination of detailed employment and detailed income data, along with the health insurance data, which provides an excellent overall picture of the well-being of our nation. However, to compare the 2013 estimates and previous years, there are other sources of health insurance coverage statistics, such as those from the American Community Survey and National Health Interview Survey. Also, because of the larger sample size and smaller sampling errors, we recommend using the American Community Survey for subnational geographies.

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How the Census Bureau Measures Income and Poverty

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Written by: Victoria Velkoff

Income, poverty and health insurance statistics for 2013 from the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement (CPS ASEC) will be released Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014. One-year statistics from the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS) will be released on Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014.

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

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

The Current Population Survey 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 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the survey provides the nation’s official annual statistics on income and poverty levels as well as statistics on age, sex, race, marital status, educational attainment, employee benefits, work schedules, school enrollment, health insurance, noncash benefits and migration.

The American Community Survey, 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, marital status, migration, homeownership, the cost and value of our homes and many more.

Statistics from these two surveys differ for multiple reasons. First, income questions on the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement are much more detailed than the summary questions asked on the American Community Survey. For the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement, trained interviewers administer the survey while people primarily respond to American Community Survey questions over the Internet or by mail. (Trained interviewers follow-up with a sample of the households who do not respond to the American Community Survey online or by mail.)

Second, the reference periods for the two surveys are very different. The Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement asks respondents to report on their income in the previous calendar year. The American Community Survey asks about income in the prior 12 months. Since the American Community Survey is a continuous survey administered throughout the year, some respondents to the 2013 American Community Survey (those who filled out the survey in January 2013) are reporting income received between January 2012 and December 2012, while other respondents (those who filled out the survey in December 2013) are reporting income received between December 2012 and November 2013.

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 American Community Survey compared with statistics from the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement for previous years. The red line adjusts the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement for the differences in reference periods.

Comparison of CPS ASEC and ACS Median Household Income and Poverty Rates: 2000 to 2012

Many people contact us each year asking which estimate to use for a particular purpose. For national statistics, we recommend the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement because it provides a consistent historical time series at the national level back, in some cases, more than half a century. The Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement can also be used to look at limited state-level trends. However, because of the larger sample size and smaller sampling errors, we recommend using the American Community Survey for subnational geographic areas.

The next two charts show the volatility of the single year Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement statistics relative to the American Community Survey statistics for two smaller states: Arkansas and Maryland. Since the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement has a smaller sample size, you see more volatility in these smaller states.

Comparison of CPS ASEC and ACS POverty Rates: 2000 to 2012: Arkansas

Comparison of CPS ASEC and ACS Household Median Income 2000 to 2012: Maryland

If you are interested in a longer time series for a small state than is available from the American Community Survey, we recommend using two- or three-year averages from the Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement.


Posted in Income, Poverty | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Maps of Migration

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Written By: David Ihrke and Charlynn Burd

Using Census Flows Mapper, you can see how migration in and out of your county compares with other counties around the country. Today’s release of statistics from the 2008-2012 American Community Survey looks at employment-themed characteristics, such as employment status, work status and occupation, of people who moved to a different county one year ago (or within the last year).

The movement of people from origin to destination is often referred to as a flow. There are three types of flows: inflows (people who move into an area), outflows (people who move out of an area) and net flows (the resulting calculation of inflows minus outflows). Los Angeles County to Orange County, Calif., is among the largest flows in Census Flows Mapper, which allows users to see the county-to-county relationships for inflow, outflow and net migration.

Take a look at these maps and see how they tell the story of the movement in and out of Los Angeles County.



The map above shows inflows, or people who move into an area. From the inflow map, we can see that there is a strong relationship between Los Angeles and its surrounding counties In other words, people from nearby counties move to Los Angeles. Additionally, Los Angeles draws population from counties throughout the West Coast.



From the outflow map, we again can see that there is a strong relationship between Los Angeles County and its surrounding counties, such as San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange. In other words, people from Los Angeles County also move to surrounding counties. However, we can also see that there is some outflow to counties in the Northeast corridor.

Net flows:


Net migration flows look at both those coming to and leaving a county. They are either positive (inflow > outflow) or negative (outflow > inflow) and denote the direction of the flow. For example, Los Angeles County loses population to Riverside County in the net flow; Los Angeles County gains some population from Cook County, Ill. (Chicago).

Try Census Flows Mapper and see what the maps of migration look like for your area. You can also see different characteristics in previous year’s versions. Those versions included sex, age, race and Hispanic origin (2006-2010), and educational attainment, household income and personal income (2007-2011).

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Census Bureau Provides Informed Picture of the State of the U.S. Auto Manufacturing Industry

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By Margaret Beckom

Since its birth more than 100 years ago, the U.S. automobile manufacturing industry has experienced significant growth to not only become one of the largest U.S. manufacturing industries but also one of the biggest industries in the U.S. economy. The changes this industry has faced have included periods of decline as well as growth, such as the most recent recession and subsequent recovery. Throughout these years, the U.S. Census Bureau has provided consistent, comparable, and reliable statistics that are critical to understanding this industry.

The Annual Survey of Manufactures provides insight into the changes in this industry in the years between economic censuses. It provides sample estimates for manufacturing establishments with one or more paid employees, including measures of industry outputs, inputs, and operating status.  Automobile manufacturing (NAICS 336111) is defined as any establishment that is primarily engaged in either manufacturing complete automobiles (i.e. body and chassis or unibody) or manufacturing automobile chassis only.

For example, the chart from the Annual Survey of Manufactures below shows a 35.7 percent decrease from the $81.5 billion in industry shipments reported in 2008 to $52.4 billion in 2009. By the end of 2010, shipments increased to $74.2 billion and continued to increase in 2011 to $85.1 billion.

The survey also provides detailed information on employment, payroll, and more than 100 additional statistics that help us further understand this industry. These data show the sharp decline in employment in this industry, from 61,779 in 2008 to 52,548 in 2009, a 14.9 percent drop. However, similar to the trend in industry shipments, employment started to recover in 2010 with employment reaching 60,421.

Released today was information on the U.S. auto manufacturing industry from the 2012 Economic Census. The Economic Census provides data not available in the Annual Survey of Manufactures, including detailed products statistics, data on specific materials consumed, and local area information down to the metro, county, and place levels. These statistics from the ASM and Economic Census (in conjunction with our detailed imports and exports data and information from other Census Bureau economic programs) are critical to understanding our diverse and ever-changing U.S. manufacturing industry. These data are invaluable to U.S. businesses interested in expanding their operations as well as foreign manufacturing businesses that are interested in investing in the U.S.

The Annual Survey of Manufacturers is conducted annually, except for years ending in 2 and 7, at which time ASM statistics are included in the manufacturing sector of the Economic Census.

Posted in Economy, Transportation | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Understanding Geographic Relationships: Geographic Summary Levels

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By Katy Rossiter

The third installment of our geographic relationships series discusses geographic summary levels and how American FactFinder uses them to provide tabulated data.

To protect individual privacy, the Census Bureau provides summaries of data for geographic areas. For example, you cannot find the median household income for a particular house, but you can find the median household income for the census tract or county for where that house is located. Each summary level, identified by a unique three-digit number, represents a different geographic entity for which the Census Bureau summarizes data.

Summary levels specify the content and hierarchical relationships of the geographic entities so that the data can be tabulated. American FactFinder utilizes these summary levels so you can get to a specific piece of geography. When you are choosing your geography in American FactFinder, you are choosing which summary level you would like to use. For example, when you choose Madison County, IN, in American FactFinder, you are choosing to work with summary level 050 State-County.

Summary Level Geographic Component
040 State
050 State-County
060 State-County-County Subdivision
140 State-County-Census Tract
150 State-County-Census Tract-Block Group


The table above describes some of the basic summary levels that are also clearly shown in the geographic hierarchy.  Census data are available for these summary levels and for all entities on the hierarchy. Census data are also available for some more complicated geographic relationships.

The table below shows some examples of relationships that are not clear on the hierarchy. These relationships are not as straightforward, and they require the Census Bureau to create special geographic units. These summary levels provide data for areas that might be difficult for the public to tabulate on their own so the Census Bureau does the work for you and makes these available in American FactFinder.

Summary Level Geographic Component Description
070 State-County-County Subdivision – Place/Remainder provides data for a place, but just the portion the place that falls in a specific county subdivision
158 State-Place-County-Census Tract provides data for a census tract, or part of a census tract, that falls within a particular place
159 State-County-Place provides data for a place, but just the portion that falls in a particular county


There are a couple of keys to understanding summary levels. First, the last geography listed in the summary level is the one you will get data for and you need to know all of the proceeding geography in order to get to the correct geographic unit. Using summary level 060 State-County-County Subdivision, for instance, will get you county subdivision data but you will need to pick the correct state and county first. For example, if you want data for Oak Bluffs town, you need to enter the state (Massachusetts) and the county (Dukes) first.

Secondly, the most important component to the list of summary levels, like this one, is not the three-digit identifier but the hierarchical relationships between geographies. While the identifiers are useful and kept constant, the Census Bureau has introduced so many new summary levels over the years, the sequential order of the IDs is not very meaningful. More meaningful are the indentions on the list.  These show how summary levels, and geographic units, fall within one another.  American FactFinder makes the three-digit identifier for each summary level available in their search functions and you can pick your geography by searching for a particular summary level. American FactFinder also shows the hierarchical relationships in their search functions by also using indentions. An example is below.


Summary levels do not cover all possible geographic relationships. There are still some geographic units not covered by a summary level, and therefore, data users need to calculate the data themselves. For example, sometimes data users are interested in the population of a county that is unincorporated, in other words, the portion of a county that is not covered by a city, town or village. However, this summary level and dataset do not exist in American FactFinder, so data users would need to calculate the data themselves. They could use summary level 050 (State-County) to obtain the county population. Then, they could use summary level 159 (State-County-Place) to determine the population of each incorporated place that falls within the county and subtract the two.

Summary levels are one way to understand geographic relationships and understanding geographic relationships is important in order to get to the correct census data.

It is the 25 year anniversary of the TIGER (Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing) database. Stay tuned for more on this important milestone in geographic history.

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