How the Census Bureau Measures Income and Poverty

Bookmark and Share

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

Bookmark and Share

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).

Posted in Population | Leave a comment

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

Bookmark and Share

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

Bookmark and Share

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.

Posted in Geography | 3 Comments

Understanding Geographic Relationships: American Indian Areas

Bookmark and Share

Written by: Katy Rossiter

Part two in the Understanding Geographic Relationships series focuses on relationships that exist between different types of American Indian Areas. Part one in this series provided an overview of how Census Bureau geographies relate to one another.

The Hierarchy of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Areas displays the relationship between both legal and statistical American Indian Area boundaries. The hierarchy portrays relationships with a line and shows where relationships do not exist by displaying entities on different line tracks. For example, you can see how tribal census tracts and tribal block groups are related.

It is important to note that the only entities on the American Indian Area hierarchy that are also on the standard hierarchy are states and census blocks. These are the only two standard geographic units that have a relationship with American Indian Area geographic units.

Hierarchy of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Areas

Federal American Indian Areas and off-reservation trust lands do not need to fall with any other geography like states or counties. In fact, they often cross stae and county lines. In 2010, there were 311 reservations and all are on the same level as the nation on the standard hierarchy.

Map of Reservations

Here is an example of federal American Indian Areas with trust lands.

Federal American Indian Areas can be divided into four other geographic entities, including tribal subdivisions, tribal census tracts, tribal block groups and census blocks.

1. Tribal subdivisions split a reservation and its trust lands into areas such as communities, chapters, districts and administrative areas. It is up to each tribal government whether it delineates subdivisions in order to receive data for these areas, which are smaller than the reservation boundary. Currently, 24 federal American Indian Areas contain tribal subdivisions.

2. All federal American Indian Areas with land contain tribal census tracts. Tribal census tracts must fall within the reservation boundary but do not need to coincide within any other geography and are delineated separately than the standard state-county census tracts. In addition, they may be discontinuous in order to cover off-reservation trust lands. Tribal census tracts are based on population, so smaller reservations may only have one tribal census tract.

3. All federal American Indian Areas with land also contain tribal block groups, although smaller populated reservations may only have one. Tribal block groups must fall within tribal census tracts and are delineated separately than the standard state-county block groups. They may also be discontinuous to include off-reservation trust lands.

4. Census blocks fall within everything. Just like in the standard hierarchy, census blocks are the building blocks for all American Indian Areas.

Moving across the hierarchy, another American Indian Area entity that does not fall within any other geography is the Tribal Designated Statistical Area (TDSA). TSDAs are statistical areas for federally recognized tribes that do not have a federally recognized land base. The only other geographic unit that falls within a TDSA is the census blocks.

Finally, three entities on the hierarchy must stay within state boundaries.

1. Oklahoma Tribal Statistical Areas (OTSAs) fall within the state of Oklahoma. Similar to federal American Indian Areas, OTSAs can be divided into tribal subdivisions, although not all OTSAs are. Subdivisions must stay within each OTSA. Census blocks must also stay within each OTSA.

2. Alaska Native Regional Corporations, Alaska Native Village Statistical Areas, and Hawaiian Home Lands must fall within their respective states (Alaska or Hawaii). Census blocks are the only geography that fall within each area.

3. State American Indian Reservations and State Designated Tribal Statistical Areas must also stay within their respective state boundary and have census blocks that fall within them. Not every state contains these areas. In 2013, six states have state American Indian Reservations and six states have state designated tribal statistical areas.

The hierarchy provides a quick and easy way for data users to see how the different American Indian Areas relate to one another. It is important to understand the hierarchy to get to the correct data. The next Understanding Geographic Relationships post will shed some light on summary levels and their role in accessing different geographic relationships in American FactFinder.

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment