Data Dictionary: ACS 2009 (1-Year Estimates)
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Data Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Table: C18131. Ratio Of Income To Poverty Level In The Past 12 Months By Disability Status [16]
Universe: Civilian Noninstitutionalized Population for Whom Poverty Status is Determined
Table Details
C18131. Ratio Of Income To Poverty Level In The Past 12 Months By Disability Status
Universe: Civilian Noninstitutionalized Population for Whom Poverty Status is Determined
Variable Label
Relevant Documentation:
Excerpt from: Social Explorer; U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey 2009 Summary File: Technical Documentation.
Poverty Status in the Past 12 Months
Poverty statistics in ACS products adhere to the standards specified by the Office of Management and Budget in Statistical Policy Directive 14. The Census Bureau uses a set of dollar value thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is in poverty. Further, poverty thresholds for people living alone or with nonrelatives (unrelated individuals) vary by age (under 65 years or 65 years and older). The poverty thresholds for two-person families also vary by the age of the householder. If a familytotal income is less than the dollar value of the appropriate threshold, then that family and every individual in it are considered to be in poverty. Similarly, if an unrelated individuals total income is less than the appropriate threshold, then that individual is considered to be in poverty.

How the Census Bureau Determines Poverty Status
In determining the poverty status of families and unrelated individuals, the Census Bureau uses thresholds (income cutoffs) arranged in a two-dimensional matrix. The matrix consists of family size (from one person to nine or more people) cross-classified by presence and number of family members under 18 years old (from no children present to eight or more children present). Unrelated individuals and two-person families are further differentiated by age of reference person (RP) (under 65 years old and 65 years old and over).

To determine a person's poverty status, one compares the person's total family income in the last 12 months with the poverty threshold appropriate for that person's family size and composition (see example below). If the total income of that person's family is less than the threshold appropriate for that family, then the person is considered "below the poverty level," together with every member of his or her family. If a person is not living with anyone related by birth, marriage, or adoption, then the person's own income is compared with his or her poverty threshold. The total number of people "below the poverty level" is the sum of people in families and the number of unrelated individuals with incomes in the last 12 months below the poverty threshold.

Since ACS is a continuous survey, people respond throughout the year. Because the income questions specify a period covering the last 12 months, the appropriate poverty thresholds are determined by multiplying the base-year poverty thresholds (1982) by the average of the monthly inflation factors for the 12 months preceding the data collection. See the table in "Appendix A" titled "Poverty Thresholds in 1982, by Size of Family and Number of Related Children Under 18 Years (Dollars)," for appropriate base thresholds. See the table "The 2009 Poverty Factors" in "Appendix A" for the appropriate adjustment based on interview month.

For example, consider a family of three with one child under 18 years of age, interviewed in July 2009 and reporting a total family income of $14,000 for the last 12 months (July 2008 to June 2009). The base year (1982) threshold for such a family is $7,765, while the average of the 12 inflation factors is 2.22421. Multiplying $7,765 by 2.22421 determines the appropriate poverty threshold for this family type, which is $17,271. Comparing the familyincome of $14,000 with the poverty threshold shows that the family and all people in the family are considered to have been in poverty. The only difference for determining poverty status for unrelated individuals is that the person's individual total income is compared with the threshold rather than the family's income.

Specified Poverty Levels
For various reasons, the official poverty definition does not satisfy all the needs of data users. Therefore, some of the data reflect the number of people below different percentages of the poverty thresholds. These specified poverty levels are obtained by multiplying the official thresholds by the appropriate factor. Using the previous example cited (a family of three with one related child under 18 years responding in July 2009), the dollar value of 125 percent of the poverty threshold was $ 21,589 ($ 17,271x 1.25). Income Deficit - Income deficit represents the difference between the total income in the last 12 months of families and unrelated individuals "below the poverty level" and their respective poverty thresholds. In computing the income deficit, families reporting a net income loss are assigned zero dollars and for such cases the deficit is equal to the poverty threshold. This measure provides an estimate of the amount, which would be required to raise the incomes of all poor families and unrelated individuals to their respective poverty thresholds. The income deficit is thus a measure of the degree of the impoverishment of a family or unrelated individual. However, please use caution when comparing the average deficits of families with different characteristics. Apparent differences in average income deficits may, to some extent, be a function of differences in family size.

Excerpt from: Social Explorer; U.S. Census Bureau; American Community Survey 2009 Summary File: Technical Documentation.
Disability Status
Under the conceptual framework of disability described by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF), disability is defined as the product of interactions among individuals bodies; their physical, emotional, and mental health; and the physical and social environment in which they live, work, or play. Disability exists where this interaction results in limitations of activities and restrictions to full participation at school, at work, at home, or in the community. For example, disability may exist where a person is limited in their ability to work due to job discrimination against person's with specific health conditions; or, disability may exist where a child has difficulty learning because the school cannot accommodate the childs deafness.

Furthermore, disability is a dynamic concept that changes over time as ones health improves or declines, as technology advances, and as social structures adapt. As such, disability is a continuum in which the degree of difficulty may also increase or decrease. Because disability exists along a continuum, various cut-offs are used to allow for a simpler understanding of the concept, the most common of which is the dichotomous "With a disability"/"no disability" differential.

Measuring this complex concept of disability with a short set of six questions is difficult. Because of the multitude of possible functional limitations that may present as disabilities, and in the absence of information on external factors that influence disability, surveys like the ACS are limited to capturing difficulty with only selected activities. As such, people identified by the ACS as having a disability are, in fact, those who exhibit difficulty with specific functions and may, in the absence of accommodation, have a disability. While this definition is different from the one described by the IOM and ICF conceptual frameworks, it relates to the programmatic definitions used in most Federal and state legislation.

In an attempt to capture a variety of characteristics that encompass the definition of disability, the ACS identifies serious difficulty with four basic areas of functioning - hearing, vision, cognition, and ambulation. These functional limitations are supplemented by questions about difficulties with selected activities from the Katz Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and Lawton Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL) scales, namely difficulty bathing and dressing, and difficulty performing errands such as shopping. Overall, the ACS attempts to capture six aspects of disability, which can be used together to create an overall disability measure, or independently to identify populations with specific disability types.

Information on disability is used by a number of federal agencies to distribute funds and develop programs for people with disabilities. For example, data about the size, distribution, and needs of the disabled population are essential for developing disability employment policy. For the Americans with Disabilities Act, data about functional limitations are important to ensure that comparable public transportation services are available for all segments of the population. Federal grants are awarded, under the Older Americans Act, based on the number of elderly people with physical and mental disabilities.

Disability status is determined from the answers from these six types of difficulty. For children under 5 years old, hearing and vision difficulty are used to determine disability status. For children between the ages of 5 and 14, disability status is determined from hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, and self-care difficulties. For people aged 15 years and older, they are considered to have a disability if they have difficulty with any one of the six difficulty types.

Hearing difficulty
Hearing difficulty was derived from question 17a, which asked respondents if they were "deaf or ... (had) serious difficulty hearing."

Vision difficulty
Vision difficulty was derived from question 17b, which asked respondents if they were "blind or ... (had) serious difficulty seeing" even when wearing glasses. Prior to the 2008 ACS, hearing and vision difficulty were asked in a single question under the label "Sensory disability."

Cognitive difficulty
Cognitive difficulty was derived from question 18a, which asked respondents if due to physical, mental, or emotional condition, they had "serious difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions." Prior to the 2008 ACS, the question on cognitive functioning asked about difficulty "learning, remembering, or concentrating" under the label "Mental disability."

Ambulatory difficulty
Ambulatory difficulty was derived from question 18b, which asked respondents if they had "serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs." Prior to 2008, the ACS asked if respondents had "a condition that substantially limits one or more basic physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs, reaching, lifting, or carrying." This measure was labeled "Physical difficulty" in ACS data products.

Self-care difficulty
Self-care difficulty was derived from question 18c, which asked respondents if they had difficulty "dressing or bathing." Difficulty with these activities are two of six specific Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) often used by health care providers to assess patients self-care needs. Prior to the 2008 ACS, the question on self-care limitations asked about difficulty "dressing, bathing, or getting around inside the home," under the label "Self-care disability."

Independent living difficulty
Independent living difficulty was derived from question 19, which asked respondents if due to a physical, mental, or emotional condition, they had difficulty "doing errands alone such as visiting a doctors office or shopping." Difficulty with this activity is one of several Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL) used by health care providers in making care decisions. Prior to the 2008 ACS, a similar measure on difficulty "going outside the home alone to shop or visit a doctor's office" was asked under the label "Go-outside-home disability."

Question/Concept History
In the 2009 American Community Survey, disability concepts were asked in questions 17 through 19. Question 17 had two subparts and was asked of all persons regardless of age. Question 18 had three subparts and was asked of people age 5 years and older. Question 19 was asked of people age 15 years and older.

Limitation of the Data
The universe for most disability data tabulations is the civilian noninstitutionalized population. Some types of GQ populations have disability distributions that are different from the household population. The inclusion of the noninstitutionalized GQ population could therefore have a noticeable impact on the disability distribution. This is particularly true for areas with a substantial noninstitutionalized GQ population. For a discussion of the effect of group quarters data has on estimates of disability status, see "Disability Status and the Characteristics of People in Group Quarters: A Brief Analysis of Disability Prevalence among the Civilian Noninstitutionalized and Total Populations in the American Community Survey" (

Beginning in 2008, questions on disability represent a conceptual and empirical break from earlier years of the ACS. Hence, the Census Bureau does not recommend any comparisons of 2009 disability data to 2007 and earlier ACS disability data. Research suggests that combining the new separate measures of hearing and vision difficulty to generate a sensory difficulty measure does not create a comparable estimate to the old Sensory disability estimates in prior ACS products. Likewise, the cognitive difficulty, ambulatory difficulty, self-care difficulty, and independent living difficulty measures are based on different sets of activities and different question wordings from similar measures in ACS questionnaires prior to 2008 and thus should not be compared. Because the overall measure of disability status in 2008 and 2009 are based on different measures of difficulty, these estimates should also not be compared to prior years. For additional information on the differences between the ACS disability questions beginning in 2008 and prior ACS disability questions, see "Review of Changes to the Measurement of Disability in the 2008 American Community Survey" (

The 2009 disability estimates should also not be compared with disability estimates from Census 2000 for reasons similar to the ones made above. ACS disability estimates should also not be compared with more detailed measures of disability from sources such as the National Health Interview Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation.

The 2009 ACS disability estimates are comparable with the ACS disability estimates from 2008.